Game is a hit among expatriates too

Ms Vishali Midha (above centre) invited her friends from the American Women's Association for a Holi-themed mahjong session. (Above) Handwritten notes and guidebooks on mahjong help Anza Mahjong Group members pick up the game. (Right) In Western-styl
Ms Vishali Midha (above centre) invited her friends from the American Women's Association for a Holi-themed mahjong session. PHOTO: COURTESY OF VISHALI MIDHA
Ms Vishali Midha (above centre) invited her friends from the American Women's Association for a Holi-themed mahjong session. (Above) Handwritten notes and guidebooks on mahjong help Anza Mahjong Group members pick up the game. (Right) In Western-styl
MS SUE CHAMBERLAIN (ABOVE, SECOND FROM RIGHT), MAHJONG GROUP COORDINATOR OF THE AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND ASSOCIATION, ON THE APPEAL OF THE GAME
Ms Vishali Midha (above centre) invited her friends from the American Women's Association for a Holi-themed mahjong session. (Above) Handwritten notes and guidebooks on mahjong help Anza Mahjong Group members pick up the game. (Right) In Western-styl
Handwritten notes and guidebooks on mahjong help Anza Mahjong Group members pick up the game. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG
Ms Vishali Midha (above centre) invited her friends from the American Women's Association for a Holi-themed mahjong session. (Above) Handwritten notes and guidebooks on mahjong help Anza Mahjong Group members pick up the game. (Right) In Western-styl
In Western-style mahjong, tiles come with English words.ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG

Mahjong is popular not just with Singaporeans, but also expatriates here.

At least six expatriate associations have mahjong groups, which are made up mainly of trailing spouses.

As the mahjong group coordinator of the Australian and New Zealand Association (Anza), Ms Sue Chamberlain organises weekly games for more than 100 group members and teaches the game to newbies.

The 59-year-old learnt to play the game almost 16 years ago when she moved here with her Australian husband, who is a research and design manager.

On its appeal, she says: "You can have four players with different skill levels and still enjoy it. One of the beauties of mahjong is that your mistakes and victories are your own."

Most expatriate groups here play Western-style mahjong.

According to Ms Chamberlain, the Western-style version has at least 120 winning combinations known as "hands"; every hand has a name such as "dragon's breath" or "sunset".

The tiles come with English words and players have to declare that they are "fishing" - meaning they need only one more tile to win.

Before the pandemic, the Anza mahjong group hosted weekly games at a Robertson Quay restaurant. There could be two to nine tables each time.

The restaurant also used to host mahjong sessions for the American Women's Association (AWA) and British Association of Singapore.

Ms Chamberlain now hosts weekly mahjong sessions at home for no more than eight friends from Anza. They hail from countries such as the Netherlands, France and South Africa.

Despite Covid-19 social distancing measures, she sees more members playing mahjong now. There have also been more male players since she started evening sessions two months ago so that working partners could join their other halves in the game.

For Ms Vishali Midha, mahjong chair of AWA, the game is not only a good way to make friends, but it also gives insights into Chinese culture. She picked up Chinese-style mahjong seven years ago in Shanghai and switched to the Western version a year later.

"Chinese mahjong is usually played with seasoned players who are very fast, so it is more stressful," says Ms Vishali, who is in her early 40s.

Last month, to mark the Hindu festival of Holi, she invited her AWA friends over to her home to play with coloured powders before a session of mahjong.

"When there is a festival around the corner, we try to set up themes for our mahjong sessions. It lets you learn a bit of the different cultures," she says.

The AWA mahjong group has 134 members from countries such as the United States, Spain and Italy, and sees about eight new players joining a month.

At Anza, Ms Chamberlain says there is a steady stream of members keen to learn the game.

"There are always new people arriving and looking to explore Singapore and learn something special like mahjong. So that one day when we leave Singapore, we can take a little bit of Asia with us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 18, 2021, with the headline 'Game is a hit among expatriates too'. Subscribe