Crossing Boundaries Through a New After-School Club
Pin drop silence, interspersed with a brief murmur or chuckle, then the clinking of tiles.
Atop and around the square tables, there is plenty going on in Room 207.
Concentration, strategizing, and critical thinking are on display in one of the newest after-school clubs at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS).
"I first heard that the Mahjong Club was starting on the announcements earlier this year," says Joshua Leduc, a Grade 11 student. "They showed a video of some of the SMCS teachers playing the game, and although I have never played it, I immediately recognized it and remembered how I have always wanted to learn how to play. So, I went to the club’s first meeting, and played with other students and had a lot of fun, and I have been going to the weekly meetings since."
Fellow Grade 11 student Giampiero Bagnara is also a first-timer. "I was told by a friend and decided to give it a shot," he says. "I had also seen it in movies (background) when actors were visiting places like Hong Kong and thought it would be fun to learn how to play."
A traditional Chinese game dating back to the 19th century, Mahjong is played with four or sometimes three players.
"Like in any card game or board game, Mahjong is a game of strategy, observation, memory, risks, and luck," says Jennifer Lee, moderator of the club and French teacher at SMCS. "It is played with 144 tiles that are engraved with Chinese characters and symbols. The rules and process are similar to Western rummy."
Using the domino-shaped tiles, players must make sets of three or four by gathering matching or sequenced tiles.
Large cardboard placards displaying the symbols and basic rules sit nearby to help beginners grasp the game.
"It was complicated to understand, but after one or two meetings I understood the basics," says Bagnara.
Leduc adds, "If I was to describe Mahjong to someone who has never played it, I would initially say to not be overwhelmed by the symbols and the large amount of tiles. I would tell them that it is very fast paced. Once the players are comfortable, the game plays faster than any card game I know, and it is very engaging."
For her part, Lee recalls her first encounter with the game. "I was exposed to Mahjong as a child watching my mother play with her friends, though only looking from afar, not quite understanding the game," she says.
"On Sunday afternoon, her friends would come to my house and would spend the whole afternoon playing this game," Lee continues. "Whenever our mothers would take a break, as little kids we would sit at the table, shuffle the tiles, pretend to play, and imitate our parents’ behavior. And it wasn’t until my friends, and I were in our teens that we sat at the table for the first time and learned to play."
Since starting in December 2021, Lee says the club has grown to about 30 players from Grades 7 to 12.
"There is still a lot of strategy I hope to master," adds Leduc. “It is also nice to meet new people and just play with my friends.”
The traditional Chinese version of Mahjong has been adapted to form a Western version of the game, as well as a solitaire format, and an online equivalent.
In addition to capturing interest among young players, Lee says, the game is timeless, crossing cultural and other boundaries.
"Mahjong doesn’t just entertain players, it brings them closer and also has benefits for the overall mental health of a person," she says. "It is popular among seniors because it is an excellent stimulant for their mental health, memory and cognitive intelligence. It is often loud at the table, and you must be quick-thinking. Your heart certainly races with the thrills of risk-taking!"
Learn about other SMCS Clubs and Activities