When You’re A Stranger

I’ve had a desire to figure out this Mahjong thing since coming to China and now having clocked about an hour and a half of watching it unfold infront of me I can safely state – I’m no closer to understanding it.

Ok, I know it involves tiles – a shit load of them – and usually money. Roughly I know you have to get runs and three of a kinds, there’s something about opening a door, eating tiles (and other assorted digestive analogies)… but as for being able to sit down and play, there’s no surer way of parting me with money.

I know all this because yesterday I took a chance and met up with a stranger. Now, this stranger was a rather small, cute girl, so my worries were limited, but those are the ones you have to be most weary of.

I met Karen while waiting for the train to Dalian last Wednesday. After nearly bowling her over in the ticket line I noticed her beside me waiting for the train. I got the sense that she might be working up the courage to say something to me, and when she asked me what the time was (in slam-bang English no less – a surprise at the Jinzhou train station) it sparked a conversation that continued until we parted ways in Dalian about 50 minutes later.

A student at Dalian’s foreign language institute she spends most her week in Dalian, but comes home to Jinzhou on the weekend. We agreed that we should try and meet up this weekend, and so it was that I met her at about 11 a.m. yesterday. She took me for a lunch of dumplings and then brought me to her godmother’s house where her mother was playing mahjong. Taking over her mother’s spot at the table Karen did her best to explain the finer points of the game to me, but I can confidently say I’ll not be entering competitions any time soon.

We then hit up a western restaurant for some sundaes and headed to her place to chill with her brother. Yup – Karen’s family is one of those rare cases with more than a 3-person household. When her parents came home from their respective mahjong games they invited me to come out for dinner with them at a local restaurant, an event that quickly incorporated the extended family as well. Once we got to the restaurant her dad invited two of her aunts and uncles to join us. It was whispered by her aunt that it was a special occasion indeed if her father was offering to take them for dinner.

Dinner was excellent, and despite a good few GAN BEI’s (bottom’s up!) I managed to keep my wits about me.

The whole famn damily. Karen and her brother are on the far right of the table and her mother and father are on the far left.

With both of us having nothing to do today we met up again and spent the day getting me a phone card so I could call my mom for Mother’s Day and searching for something unique and interesting she could get for her ma ma (eventually settling on flowers).

Karen in this nice little garden place she showed me just up the street from my house.

After saying goodbye to Karen at about 5:30 so she could catch her train back to Dalian, I met up with the Matthews and Brendan to check out Dalian Shide (pronounced shi duh, not sh-eye-de) the “Man. United” of Chinese football. They’ve recently been playing their home games at the Jinzhou stadium. So 20 kuai and a short walk took me one step closer to removing my naivity about the world’s biggest sport. Though not exactly the Premiership, the game was entertaining.

True to Chinese form (and complete lack of respect for personal safety) after a goal was scored fireworks – somewhat akin to emergency flares – were lit randomly in the crowd. But my favourite was the Chinese solution to the ‘DUN DUN DUNT, DUN DUN DUNT’ music – essentially, if you get there early you get your place by one of the four large taiko-style drums and you get to beat them like a bad student for the duration of the game.

Final Score: Dalian 2, Unknown Guys in Grey and Orange 0
Number of Unknown Guys in Grey and Orange Removed From The Field By Stretcher and Medical Staff: 2

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