Mad About Mahjong

Pool-friendly mahjong in 1926.
Pool-friendly mahjong in 1926.
nytimes.com

Mahjong was all the rage in the 1920s, then again in the 1950s and early '60s. Middle-class women would host mahjong evenings, decorating their homes and dressing in kimonos. Today, mahjong gatherings are becoming increasingly popular among 20 and 30-somethings; the Manhattans and highballs of yore replaced by sushi and sake. The resurgence is due, in part, to Mad Men. The AMC series' influence, seen everywhere from the runways to Broadway, has sparked new interest in a pastime previously associated with Jewish retirees and elderly characters in Amy Tan novels.

Where the Winds Blow, a online store based in Katy, offers everything from mahjong sets and supplies to jewelry made with tiles. The e-retailer, launched out of owner Faye Scher's garage as a hobby in 2002, now occupies a 2,400 square-foot warehouse. Scher told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, "It has become the cool game--there is a total buzz about it." Over the past five years Scher has seen her sales quadruple.

The National Mah-Jongg League now boasts nearly half a million members, up 400 percent since the '70s and '80s. The association's 84-year-old president, Ruth Unger, told the Wall Street Journal, "We lost a generation." The feminist and sexual revolutions of the 1970s left women with little interest in the homemaking skills and parlor games of their mothers. Clothing became more casual, pot would replace booze, and many women tacked a 40-hour workweek onto their to-do lists. Today's technological isolation, a decade of war, and financial crisis have all increase the lure of Don Draper's America and the traditions of a more innocent age.

Online gaming and a crap-load of mobile apps have certainly played a part as well. A friend recently got us hooked on the Scrabble-like WordJong, but our mahjong app of choice is MobileAge's Shanghai Mahjong. We love the sharp graphics and variations in tile sets and backgrounds--you can even customize the background with pictures from your camera roll. $.99 well spent.

Mad About Mahjong
nationsonline.org

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