The landscape of mahjong in Singapore is changing with some recent developments. The People's Association (PA) is leading the charge in bringing mahjong to the masses (see CNA report on mahjong classes offered by the PA). For some time, community centres and clubs (CCs) under the PA have been reluctant to allow the playing of mahjong on their premises, because of a law against gambling in public, and because of objections by residents on the basis that allowing mahjong on CC premises is tacit approval of gambling (see a 2008 Straits Times report on the CCs' view on mahjong). Of course, this had changed somewhat, and the rule against playing of mahjong on CC premises has in fact been relaxed sometime earlier last year. Still, few CCs want to risk running into trouble with the law and would rather not have mahjong at all. This is despite some benefits of mahjong for the general community, particularly in the form of good exercise for the brain, with special respect to combating dementia in the aged.
All that said, there are some developments nonetheless. As the first report by CNA had reported, there are mahjong courses being offered in selected CCs now. All this had been initiated by staff from the PA. Community centres and clubs offer all sorts of classes and courses for the public, and there has been a recent effort to expand the courses for mind sports, and mahjong has been added to this list of mind sports (which also includes games like chess, xiangqi, weiqi/go, contract bridge, and scrabble etc.). This is not surprising. No one can deny that mahjong is an intellectual game where some element of skill is required. Without the motivation of gambling, mahjong can still be played and enjoyed. Mahjong is also a very familiar game to Singaporeans. Most, if not all, of the local Chinese have seen this game being played, and know people who play it. Members of the other ethnic groups here know about it to some extent. Mahjong is played at void decks during Chinese funeral wakes, in holiday chalets during school vacations, and at homes during the Chinese New Year. The familiarity of mahjong to Singaporeans is probably an important factor in promoting it as a mental game for active ageing (one of the PA's social campaigns).
So, mahjong can be played as a game for active ageing, to improve cognitive skills and combat dementia, and for socialising, all of which are very desirable ends as far as the PA is concerned. So, mahjong classes are now officially being offered by the CCs which are more willing to allow mahjong playing on their premises. The first two courses (with sixteen vacancies each) have certainly been popular enough that all places were taken, and more courses are being offered now.
Where am I leading you readers in all of this? Well, besides informing you of the developments that are taking place in Singapore, I am also taking the opportunity to announce that I am one of the two current trainers involved in these new mahjong courses! This very blog had attracted the attention of some PA staff, and I had been in discussions with the PA to design and offer some mahjong courses for the Singaporean public. But the current courses being run now are by the other trainer (they take the form of a series of four 1.5-hour lessons) while my proposed courses are one-session workshops of three hours in three areas: basic mahjong (for total beginners); Singapore Style; and Mahjong Competition Rules. You can search for the details of the various courses on the onePA website.
As this blog shows, I am a mahjong enthusiast interested in the recently developed Mahjong Competition Rules (MCR) and in competitions utilising these rules. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to introduce it to more Singaporeans through the proposed workshop on MCR and to build up a player base for MCR. There could be MCR tournaments here once there are enough players willing to play competitively. So, hopefully, there will be participants for this workshop.
So, there are now opportunities to learn how to play mahjong in a more structured way here in Singapore. And no, we are not teaching participants how to cheat or do fancy tricks in our courses! Participants will learn how to play mahjong as an enjoyable and rewarding intellectual game. Do check out and participate in the courses if you are interested!