Automasian for the People

May 8th, 2008 | 0 comments | Posted by Jen

My wai puo is a dear sweet woman. She’s a cancer survivor and devout Catholic; she’s lived through colonialism, civil war, getting forced out of China, losing my grandfather at a young age, and immigrating to a new country. She is traditional and set in her ways–though she’s lived in Canada for the last thirty years, she’s never learned English; she’s also never owned an answering machine and has no idea that the internet exists. Generally, she’s long on patience, except at the mah jong table, where she won’t tolerate any fucking around. Behavior that qualifies as “fucking around”: excessive talking, being slow to make a move, playing for fun rather than money, winning with a junk hand, and, god forbid, shuffling the tiles incorrectly.

Shuffling the tiles before each match is a ritual shared among the four players. It is called “washing” in Chinese, and it involves moving your hands over the tiles in a circular motion not unlike Mr. Miyagi’s Wax On, Wax Off technique (upon reflection, I wonder if my grandmother has been secretly trying to teach me karate over the years). When wai puo first taught me and my brother how to play, we washed the tiles in a brutish way. It was so fun hearing the pieces click-clack against each other that we would toss and tumble them like rocks. Look at us! We’re playing mah jong! This is exactly like the Joy Luck Club, except nobody’s crying! Whee! After getting some tongue-lashings about long-standing customs and several withering looks from wai puo that brought us close to tears, we quickly fell in line, because there’s something about getting shamed by a tiny person with wrinkly, arthritic hands and a profound history of hardship that sets you straight in an instant. Again, it’s not unlike the effect Mr. Miyagi had on Daniel-san after he made Daniel do all those chores and THEN revealed that he had been to Manzanar, fought in WWII, and lost his wife and kid because of the lousy conditions at the internment camp. I mean, how are you going to be a lazy, ungrateful slob after knowing that?

I can say with certainty, then, that my grandmother would not approve of the Automatic Mah Jong Table featured on Boing Boing yesterday. Though it claims to be both “high tech” and “hi-efficient,” two qualities prized in Chinese culture, it also shuffles and deals the tiles–gasp–automatically.

Even the fact that this table is made in China would not keep my Hardass Asian wai puo from wondering:

Why would I spend $680 for something I could do myself?
What are young people today so lazy? So spoiled?
This is a disgrace. To the race.
How do you work this thing exactly?
Wait, $680?! Where the @#$% am I going to get $680?!?

Thanks, Jasmine!

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