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Portraits Paula Bock

Mahjong / With clicketing tiles and time to talk, the play's the thing

Mahjong, anyone? Friday mornings, 9 to noon, look for the women wearing mahjong jewelry while clickety-clicking the smooth tiles on the courtyard tables near the shoe-repair place in Bellevue's Crossroads Mall. If you don't know how to play, they'll teach you. If you don't know English, they'll teach you.

"A majority of our players are retired ladies," says 77-year-old Genny Tenny, who was taught by Lynda Hanley (a snowbird who learned in Tucson) and Jackie Belsvik, who took a course at Bellevue Community College. Tenny continued:

"You can talk and play, and it's got so many different possibilities for different hands: Characters and bamboos and different winds and the dragons and wild cards besides all the numbers. It's fascinating.

"It's important to keep moving and keep doing. Otherwise you get stagnant. You've gotta move your mind, or you lose it.

"Of course, you can tell people's personalities. Dorothy constantly complained: 'I just never get any good tiles.' And then she'd say, 'Mahjong!' and she'd win! She was in her 80s when she left us. She was in rehab, and we were bringing the mahjong sets over there to play, and she died that day.

"Me? I don't have a serious bone in my body. Even though I've got aches and pains like everybody else, I don't complain about it. I'm laughing most of the time, and everybody's laughing around me. But, I am competitive and pay attention!

"We met Susan Ho, from Taiwan. She married a Chinese-American and came over here, and she knew no English to speak of. She went to BCC for English. She doesn't drive, so she walked to Crossroads to shop and saw us playing and started crying because it reminded her of her grandma who taught her. We said she should play with us! She had a little gadget to figure out what we were saying. She'd poke in the letters and it'd come up in Chinese. The slang she had a little trouble with, but not the swear words — she got those pretty good. Once, she won three games in a row. And we said, 'You're hot!' She said, 'The weather?' "

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