pung, kong, chow

These days when I get noticeably emo around the blickets, even Julia blinks at me with her lemur eyes and says “Do youse miss yours mom?” I say that I do, because missing my mother is as good a synechdoche for what I do feel as anything else.

Ever since my very happy week in Barraba, my pointed longing for Mum and Sarah and Kelly has taken the form of mah jong mania, since that’s all we did over the break: eat my Dad’s Christmas cake and play and play and play. Jeremy had to pry me away from the tiles to go to the airport.

As part of my efforts to fall in love with San Francisco again – efforts in which San Francisco and the Bad Cat are colluding, the city by turning on the fragrant lemon-yellow angled winter sunlight I can never resist, the Bad Cat by sitting on me and purring loudly – I wandered up Grant Street to buy myself a mah jong set. I knew exactly what I wanted: brocade, trays, finely carved tiles, a good lurid bird for One Bamboo. My Dad’s set, in short.

It quickly became clear that mah jong has fallen out of fashion in the new China. There were lots and lots of blobby ugly plastic tiles in plastic boxes. There were a few more interesting bone tiles in boxes apparently lined with old Chinese newspapers. There were no sets I wanted.

I walked halfway to North Beach and found an antique store, transparently covering some kind of money laundering operation. The very helpful Russian gentleman who ran it dug up an original 1950s E S Lowe Bakelite set, complete with the marbled plastic benches. It was marked for sale at $8,100 but he offered me a deal: “You pay cash? Visa? $1500?” I told him I would have to go away and think about it. “How about $500?” Ordinarily I would be very pleased with a $7,600 markdown, but it’s selling for $26 right now on eBay, so…

My set was in the last store I looked in, almost back at the office, long after I had given up hope. It’s not perfect and I devoutly hope the sweet Chinese woman was incorrect when she told me the tiles are ivory and bamboo – it’s almost certainly bone. The case is shabby and sun-faded and frayed, but hey, so am I. Who wants to play?

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