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Mahjong at The Paradise Center improves cognitive skills, builds community

Mahjong at The Paradise Center
Mahjong at The Paradise Center
Photo by Petra Rivera
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Multiple days a week, Longboater Carol Peschel walks out of her home with distinctive jewelry. 

She wears bracelets, necklaces and earrings with Chinese symbols written on tiles. These aren't just any tiles. These are patterns from her favorite game: mahjong.

Peschel has been playing mahjong for 20 years and teaches it at The Paradise Center. Even with its intricate tiles and many cognitive benefits, it is so much more. What brings Peschel back every time is the close-knit community she has built through the game. 

“In mahjong, you can play with two, three or four people,” said Peschel. “So with those options, you can build a strong community while playing. I have this one group that is very social, and we always get together, like for people’s birthdays. It is so important for people our age to have a community. You should have a place to go where you can meet like-minded people and have fun.”

Carol Peschel and Marilyn Katzmark
Photo by Petra Rivera

Peschel started playing mahjong after her friend from the Longboat Key Garden Club, Susan Landau, introduced it to her in 2004. She found it difficult at first, but the beauty of tiles and the complexity of the game pushed her to continue practicing. After years of dedicated play, she started teaching mahjong at The Paradise Center in 2014.

Mahjong is a Chinese game with distinctive tiles and a yearly card with combinations. Each turn a player will pick up a tile on the table and discard a tile. Players keep doing this to make a combination from the card depending on what other players put down. 

You can make patterns based on certain numbers, winds (north, south, east or west), flowers and dragon tiles. The first to make a specific amount of matching pairs and sets wins. Peschel explained that the game changes based on the number of players and different forms of the game. 

Peschel described mahjong to be like a dance. Players are responsible for their own moves, but they build off other players’ moves to create beautiful patterns. She likes that the solo aspect of the game allows her to build independence in her skills but playing with others encourages socializing. 

Carol Peschel
Photo by Petra Rivera

Along with the community aspect, Peschel said that mahjong is a stimulating game that keeps the mind sharp. According to a study done by Frontiers in Neurology, playing mahjong is proven to improve hand-eye coordination, short-term memory, attention span and logical thinking. 

Every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m., The Paradise Center is filled with dedicated mahjong players. During the fall, Longboaters fill seven or eight tables throughout the center. 

Since the summer is a slower time on the island, it's a good time to learn the complicated game. Peschel teaches beginners, usually teaching three at a time during the season. The Paradise Center member Bonnie Wilder helps intermediate-level players with any questions they might have once they have played for a few months. 

Peschel said she never expected to be a teacher, but teaching mahjong has brought her a whole new level of fulfillment. She loves to see when it clicks for people after working with them for weeks. Mahjong players at The Paradise Center said she is a kind and patient teacher.

“Mahjong is basically a foreign language,” said Peschel. “It takes time to learn but it is so worth it when you get it. It's fun and great for the brain. But really, it is a great place to make friends. I have taught so many people throughout the years so it is crazy to think about how they are carrying on my passion for it themselves.”



Petra Rivera

Petra Rivera is the Longboat community reporter. She holds a bachelor’s degree of journalism with an emphasis on reporting and writing from the University of Missouri. Previously, she was a food and drink writer for Vox magazine as well as a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.

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