5. Hit up the combination skating rink/dance hall
Anyone who has spent some time in a Chinese city has probably seen the groups of middle-aged and elderly people that gather in parks and public squares around dusk to dance. While small groups can sometimes be found dancing outside in Jincheng, the most popular destination for Jincheng is a skating rink located in a back alley near one corner of the night market. I visited the roller rink in the afternoon and found a few young students skating in circles, but by night the building is full of middle aged dancers. The roller rink charges 2 RMB a night to get one’s groove on to slow Chinese ballads. While I saw a few couples dancing together, the primarily female clientele was mostly engaged in coordinated line dancing.
As in many parts of China, karaoke parlors are a staple of entertainment in rural Sichuan. Jincheng has a number of karaoke parlors of various sizes, usually easily identified by large signs and flashing neon lights. Unlike most American karaoke bars, the custom in China is for a group of friends to rent a private room with a television, karaoke machine, and microphones, and have drinks and other snacks brought to the room by wait staff. In larger cities like Beijing, the cost and quality of karaoke parlors varies greatly, with cost usually being directly proportional both to the quality of the equipment and to the number of English songs on the menu. A place like Yilong has little room for high-end karaoke clubs, so foreigners are left with a limited number of song options, in particular favoring 90’s boy bands and a few classic rock standards.
The famous Chinese game is in many ways a variation of the Western “gin” or “rummy.” Successive players take turns picking tiles from the center in an effort to get all of the 13 tiles in their hand to match up, usually in sets of two or three. Unfortunately for the aspiring Mahjong expert, there are an endless number of versions on the game, with each province being known for a specific set of rules and many even smaller variations between counties and cities. Luckily for me, Sichuanese Mahjong is one of the simpler versions, which uses one fewer type of tiles (a little bit like “suits” in Western cards). I had grown up playing a lot of cards and was confident that I would be able to get the hang of the game without too much difficulty. While I was quickly able to get a grasp of the rules and follow along as my companions played, I found that, being unused to the pictures on the tiles, it took me longer to decide which tiles to keep and which to throw away. Unfortunately, Sichuanese Mahjong players seem to have very little patience for newcomers. If I delayed the flow of the game by more than a few seconds I would be met with complaints from my opponents, or one of the onlookers to the game would reach in and play a tile for me. In order to make the game more interesting, a small wager is placed on each hand, usually just a few RMB. If the winning player draws the last tile he needs from the center of the table, then all three opponents pay him, but if the winning tile comes from another player’s discard, then only the player responsible for the discard has to pay. Certain special combinations of tiles, or winning without using one “suit,” can increase the amount of the winnings.