Mahjong at Nengkoy’s & The Crazy Rich Asian Movie Scene

Mahjong is my family’s game played in Nengkoy’s house very Friday night.  The shuffling sound of mahjong tiles reverberating inside my mother’s living room area every Friday night is literally a weekly occurrence.  Every child of Nengkoy (including me) does in fact know how to play this old and traditional Asian game.

And every member of my family seated to play this game would in some way transform into someone different.  We would be more focused, more fierce, somewhat smart and strategic as if in a funny attack mode.  This is especially true with Nengkoy.  She would be so engrossed, she would not mind a word you say if you try asking her what she has done all day or what food has she prepared for dinner.

With our being so well versed with Mahjong, it was easy for us to process and easily understood the mahjong scene representations made by the director of the movie Crazy Rich Asians when my whole family watched this groundbreaking movie last Saturday.


nengkoy! pong!

rachel chu playing mahjong scene in crazy rich asian

In that mahjong scene between the characters of Rachel Chu (the NY-based Asian-American) and Eleanor (the overbearing matriarch and fearsome mother of Rachel’s boyfriend), we right away understood that Rachelle did the ultimate sacrifice when she let Eleanor win the mahjong game.  Rachelle gave up her love, would-be wealth and basically her future with Eleanor’s son.  She picked the needed 8-sticks tile to win the game yet she threw and discard it away so that Eleanor could win.

My whole family laughed when we heard Eleanor (played by Michelle Yeoh) uttered “Pong!”  The scene would have actually been better if the characters can do the “sinasalat” act.  It is a classic mahjong act in which players would be able to determine the tile they picked without looking at it but by merely using the sense of touch, i.e. by sliding the tile’s character through the player’s finger tips.

If in other Asian movies the fight scene can be so literal – in the form of Karate, Judo or other martial arts – I consider the mahjong scene in Crazy Rich Asian as the ultimate fight scene between the protagonist and the antagonist of the story.  This scene actually unleashes the dragon in Rachel and ultimately tamed the bitchiness of Eleanor.

channeling the eleanor young in me

I was seated beside Nengkoy inside the movie house when Rachelle picked her “puro” (the needed tile to win).  I heard Nengkoy say, Todas na Sya! Bunot Pa! (Translation: she wins! and with a higher pay).

And since mahjong is played by my family every Friday night, the mahjong scene in Crazy Rich Asian even made me further love this delightful film.  The movie was definitely a Todas! Bunot! All-Up! and Syete Pares!


Nengkoy: the Diva Mahjongera

A lot of research and medical journals claim that playing the ancient Chinese game of mahjong has lots of benefits.  Some study shows that this cognitive game that requires sharp memory, notable strategic planning ability, brilliant attention and robust skill in mathematical computation prevents the development of dementia and could even amplify various cognitive measures. It makes you quick-witted, sharp-witted and not dim-witted.

Definitely, mahjong is considered one great social channel for its players (though they consider other players as their opponents) to bond ties among each other as well as the ‘mirons’ (onlookers) who just watch it.  It’s a game in which the players’ interrelationships would closely bind which leads to feelings of positive social belongingness and well being.

I consider myself and my siblings to belong to the above average intelligence scale but I cannot remember the time I and my siblings were assisted by Nengkoy to study for a school exam or finish a school-required-homework.  However, my memory never fails me to recall the days when Nengkoy would tag us along in her mahjong sessions at the houses of her amigas and compadres in Sta. Ana, Makati during our childhood days.

I clearly remember those days when I would not play with the sons and daughters of her ‘mahjong-mates’.  But I would prefer just sitting beside her at one corner of the mahjong table and watch how she do various tactics and strategies among those engraved marble mahjong tiles on the table.  And when every time she or an opponent declares ‘todas’ (a win) I would gladly assist her in shuffling and rearranging those tiles to re-start a new game.

At present day, Nengkoy’s amigas may seldom or no longer play it anymore but Nengkoy still does.  She now plays it with us, her children and grandchildren.  Hilarious yet brain-challenging mahjong games played by the family up to these present days in the house of Nengkoy in Pasay kept the family sane and insane!

I belong to the Romasanta-Langit family and every one of us knows how to play mahjong. It is one of the common flairs that we have.  A specimen who claims to belong to the Romasanta-Langit family is a sham if he or she doesn’t know how to play this ancient game.

I and my siblings’ intellectual aptitudes and social acumen may be attributed to our innate genetics but this has been enhanced and honed by Nengkoy’s influences. And one of these great influences is our knowledge and ability to play mahjong.  Thanks to Nengkoy, the “diva majongera” who is celebrating her 74th birthday today, for the unconventional way of sharpening our wit.

Happy Birthday Nanay!  Todas!  Ol ap, syete pares.  Bipor da pip.  No plawer, no dyoker…