Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Friday September 3rd: Golf and a Resumption of Mahjong (Mechanical Tables Permitting...)

Now that September is here, the summer mahjong recess is officially over and was marked by a sweltering day of golf at Hiroshima Golf Club and an eventful evening of mahjong at Kodama mahjong parlour...

It's been several months since I last handled a golf club, except for a few ten minute bashes at the indoor place at the back of the Xebio sports shop at Shoko Centre. There are several advantages to practising there. For one thing, you don't have to take your clubs. Another advantage is that you are the only one inside the practice area. A further advantage is that one practice session only lasts a few minutes. You put 300 yen into a slot and blast your balls at a screen while a computerised thingummy works out the distance and direction that your ball supposedly went and you get to see a tracer-fire line arching gracefully down a fairway on the screen.

Anyway, apart from a few of those sessions, it has been several months since I last picked up one of MY golf clubs (er, or the ones Jaime gave me when he got a new set)... but I had agreed to play golf with Jaime at the Hiroshima Golf Club on Friday. So Thursday saw me back at Xebio getting in a bit of practice blasting balls at the screen. I tried out a fairway wood and was so impressed with the results that I promptly bought a second-hand one for just under 10,000 yen; a no. 3, 40 cm, 22 degrees loft. Perfect for getting a duffer's ball up the fairway, and for cutting down on the number of clubs in the bag.

My bag now consists of just seven clubs:

1 x driver: This produces amazing banana shots and is sometimes useful for getting balls from the tee to the green on par 3 holes - and over valleys (see below)...

1 x fairway wood: Drives nice and straight on the fairway, if only I could remember to aim for the flag... Also good for getting my ball out of flattish bunkers...

1 x no. 6 iron: A doubtful club that sometimes helps me out of the rough, and sometimes doesn't.

1 x no. 7, 8 & 9: My trusty irons for the shorter game, my relative strong point...

1 x P/S: A most necessary club for deep bunkers and other trying situations. I have discarded the pitching wedge and the sand wedge in favour of the combi. In golf, as in life, fewer is often wiser. Ask Tiger.

Hiroshima Golf Club is easy to get to. Just hop on the tram for two stops and catch a taxi up the hill. Our tee-off time was a civilized 10:15 and there was nobody behind us. Perfect!

Hiroshima Golf Club opened as a 9-hole course in 1952. Today it is a challenging 18-hole hill-top course with fine views of western Hiroshima and the sea and islands beyond.
Hiroshima Golf Club

It was a sweltering day, with temperatures well into the mid-30s centigrade. We survived on bottles of Aquarius Sparkling, "a low-calorie isotonic sports drink. It contains amino acid BCAA, citric acid and D-ribose, and uses a technology called ‘Bubble Smoother’ from Soda Kouryou to suppress the fizz."

None the less, a cleansing beer at the refreshment huts after the 5th and 14th holes, and a beer at lunch, were also necessary to keep the spirits up and the tension down... Lunch - a pretty good yakiniku beef set.

As for the golf, well, it had its ups and downs. The new fairway wood showed promise, but, as I say, it was a difficult course! Hopes of getting round without getting into double figures on any hold were dashed at the third, where my ball insisted on taking the difficult route along the right, through the trees and bunkers...

There were a couple of inspirational moments, one of which Jaime captured on video. The somewhat eccentric swing was fully justified by the result! A workman was lurking under the trees by the footbridge so I aimed at him rather than at the fairway and pulled off a fine banana-shot, causing the ball to land on the edge of the fairway.

Here's a photo of Jaime at the top of his swing:

Jaime using an iron on a par 3 hole.

That evening we met up at The Shack as Kemby's is currently being refurbished under new ownership. If what I hear is right, the music stage is to be removed and the kitchen extended, with a big window put in so that you can see the chefs in action.

Noda and Nobu were waiting for us when we arrived at Kodama. We were on the table in the far right corner - at least we were until the machine swallowed two of the tiles. There then followed a twenty minute session in which we tipped the table back and forth while Jaime worked with a screwdriver and a pair of large tweezers to locate and pull out the two tiles. We then switched table while Mama-san continued in her attempts to locate a phantom "third tile" with the help of Noda until he was called back to the game.

Ah, the game.

There was only one big loser tonight, and that, for a change, was Noda. He finished bottom in the first game, which Jaime won. Then in the second game he ended up owing Nobu 40,000 points. This was put down to the fact that Nobu had been "studying" and came to the parlour armed with TWO mahjong books (although it emerged that he had bought one of them only today).

Meanwhile, David plodded through the middle, conceding little (except a 5-bamboo to Noda on a single tile wait) and taking little, hoping to the last to come out ahead, especially as he was last Oya in the second game, but Jaime pipped him to the finish so he had to make do with -2.

Nobu's good form wobbled a bit in the second game when he committed two Riichi-chombo errors in a row by failing to see everything he was waiting for - including a discarded tile!

Tonights result certainly helped to "tighten up" the game to almost 1,000 points between Noda and Nobu. Jaime's winning streak continues and he is now in second place, and he managed to achieve tonights win in spite of getting distracted by news about the demise of David English House school and Facebook photos of its most beautiful former employee...

Nobu -6, +72* = +66
Jaime +31, +20 = +51
David +3, -5 = -2
Noda -28, -87 = -105

Jaopanese Mahjong

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Miyazaki: Mahjong, Barbeques, Beer & Basil Fawlty

We played just two games of mahjong during August, on two consecutive evenings at Neil's house in Miyazaki, Kyushu. The results were good for Jaime, okay for David, not so great for Neil or Ray.

In spite of the fact that the 3PMG Cock's-Eye Mahjong Club had never met so far south before, no photos of the historic mahjong event were taken. Just before the second evening's game we had a barbeque in Neil's garden, so a photo of that will have to suffice instead:

Ray, Jaime, a monkey, Neil in front of the bbq.

During the games Eileen-chan watched Flushed Away and also her current favourite t.v. series, Fawlty Towers and spent much of the holiday impersonating Basil Fawlty...
Basil Fawlty: Oh, its my fault is it? I thought it was your fault for falling asleep or Manuels fault for not waking you, and all the while it was my fault. Oh, its so obvious. Now I've seen the light! Well, I must be punished then, mustn't I? [Spanking himself] You're a naughty boy, Basil! [Hitting forehead] Don't do it again! [Chthonic cry of rage followed by panic attack]...


Basil Fawlty: Ah, Manuel. There is too much butter on those trays.
Manuel: ¿Qué?
Basil Fawlty: There is too much butter on those trays.
Manuel: Ah, no senor. No "on those trays"... uno, dos, tres.

And then there's the scene from The Germans...

Basil Fawlty "entertains" his German guests.

And here's how the games went:

August 6th

Jaime: +50, -21 = +29
David: +10, -2 = +8
Ray: -8, -24 = -32

August 7th

Jaime +64
David +10
Ray -57
Neil -17

Japanese Mahjong

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mahjong Recess For The Duration Of The World Cup

Friday evening mahjong has been cancelled for the duration of the World Cup.

The last game of mahjong was played on Friday 4th June. Ray was in town and joined us for the game. He did well enough, despite a Chombo in the second game, gaining sixteen points and playing just enough games to get back his status as a "full time" player.

Noda signalled his intentions by finishing the first game as the only winner. Ray won the second game despite the Chombo.

The second game was the beginning of a disastrous performance by David who gave back all of the previous session's winnings, committed a foolish Riichi-Chombo by throwing away the tile he needed to complete his hand, and then ended up with a Yakitori on the table at the end of the game.

David staged a belated fourth game recovery that enabled him to just avoid a treble-digit loss for the evening.

Jaime steered a middle course between victory (Noda) and disaster (David), scoring a total of zero for the last two games and ending down on -23. So the only foreigner happy with the evening was Ray!

Noda +47, +2, +58, -1 = +106
Ray -14, +51,* -7, -14 = +16
Jaime -18, -5, +13, -13 = -23
David -15, -48, -64,* ** +28 = -99

* Chombo
** Yakitori

Japanese Mahjong 


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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Friday 21st May: David Recovers Form

Bit of a late report this one. Noda, David and Nobu played three games of mahjong during an early sesson on Friday 21st May, from 7pm to 10pm.

In the first game Nobu appeared to be about to claim the 8-Bamboo from David (Oya, Tenpai) but David pointed at the 8-Bamboo in Nobu's discard row. A couple of tiles later Nobu went out on Noda's 1-Bamboo discard on what he thought was a legal Toitoi hand, but since one of his waits was illegal (8-Bamboo) and had been warned already about Chombo, he was unceremoniously penalized.

Noda staged a minor third game recovery to finish on -18, so his whopping lead is hardly threatened by David's +94 result.

Nobu, in the meantime, sank to a new low at the bottom of the ladder despite a great improvement in his game, his awareness (up to a point) and the pace at which he plays over the last month or so.

David +61, +42, -9 = +94
Noda -34, -4, +20 = -18
Nobu -27,* -38, -11 = -76

Japanese Mahjong
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Friday 7th May: Nobu Pricks David's Revival With 2 x Kokushimusou

This evening at Kodama will be remembered for two things, namely:

1. That after two games Jaime found himself +75 ahead and scuttled off sheepishly muttering something about needing to get home before the puppy piddled on the carpet.

2. That Nobu clobbered David with Kokushimusou on not one but TWO occasions after Jaime's departure.

Nobu had been Tempai on Kokushimusou in the second game as well, and Noda was looking, rather obviously, for Kokushimusou in the fourth.

Nobu's first Kokushimusou victory came about when David was Oya and went Riichi. Nobu asked David to clarify whether or not he needed to go Riichi on his hand and when David had a look he was a ready Kokushi hand needing a 9-Bamboo to finish and said, "No, you don't need to go Riichi." Since three of 9-Bamboo were already out, David was not too concerned, but the very next tile he pulled from the wall and had to discard was... the last remaining 9-Bamboo. So 32,000 points were promptly transferred from David's tray to Nobu's.

Nobu's first ever Kokushimusou.

Then, in the South round of the fourth and final game, Noda declared Riichi with a hand that was showing dollar strength. David and Nobu were playing out the hand, or so it seemed. David, who was Oya, ran out of safe tiles and put out a Dora tile (North tile in 3-Player MJ) in the hope of finding a safe tile on the back. (Actually, he probably should have simply discarded the North tile but was still hoping to get a ready hand as Oya.) He drew a Red Dragon from the back of the wall, and as both Noda and he had discarded one he chucked it. There was a sudden motion and cry from Nobu, who had been very quiet up until then...


And the second Kokushimusou was revealed. So David handed over another 32,000 points to Nobu and had to give up any hopes of a revival of fortunes.

Noda took over the Oya and during a Ryanshi hand Nobu got a bit carried away and went out on a 1-Yaku open hand with South Wind his only Yaku and fell to a Chombo penalty.

In spite of all that, Nobu still came in bottom of the pile.

Jaime +40, +35, --, -- = +75
Noda -38, +11, -18, +27 = -18
David -3, -11, -14,* +9* = -19
Nobu +1, -35, +32, -36** = -31

* David gives Nobu Kokushimusou.
** Chombo



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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tues 4th May: Green Day at Takanosu Golf Club

Teeing Off At Takanosu

Our party of seven split up into two groups, with four Japanese players in the leading group, and Jaime, Nobu and David bringing up the rear as Nobu was a complete beginner and David an "improving learner"...

Nobu was distinctly nervous at the prospect of teeing-off whereas David was utterly calm. For a start, nobody was following too closely behind us at as we sallied forth to the first hole. Secondly, the prospect of not being the bottom player for the first time in his golfing career was a prospect that David rather relished...

The course at Takanosu consists of a lot of longish narrowish fairways that feature...
  • a lake that wraps round much of the 18th hole and invites you to lose a ball on the approach and another if you overshoot the green...
  • an impossibly huge gully that serves as a gigantic maw for weaker players' balls...
  • a craftily placed stream just right to receive the ball of anybody (such as myself) who needs two shots to get 200 yards from the tee.
  • a gaping bunker just in front of a par three green, complete with a steep bank on the green side...
Jaime and Noda were competing for a ¥1,000 prize. What Noda didn't know was that our group was playing the Mulligan rule...

Mrs W was playing with a youngish Japanese chap who had a penetrating drive but a poor finish, by all accounts.
Mrs T was competing with David and Nobu, but took advantage of the ladies tee to keep ahead of the losers.

David's practice session the day before paid off and he managed to avoid double figures right up until the 9th hole, despite stopping for a beer at the fifth. However, after a couple of beers over lunch David's performance underwent a dramatic transformation. His driving from the tee dramatically improved as he remembered to apply the "transfer weight over right leg to your heel on the upswing" trick and managed to drive two or three balls up to 200 yards in a straight line and also delivered a straight shot with the number 6 iron off the tee on a par 3 hole, landing just short of the green.

However, when it came to driving the golf buggy, David came to grief as he grappled with three golf clubs, the steering wheel and the accelerator which he kept glued to the floor as he took the buggy over a sharp rise and down a slope where the path curved to the left. David got tangled up with his golf clubs and crashed the buggy straight into the fence. Happily, the fence was made of old railway sleepers and did not give way. A quick application of reverse gear and all was put right again, more or less.

Work with the middle irons also faded somewhat until the 18th when David managed to loft the ball onto the green, but by then he had racked up three more double-figure holes and a total score of 141 and a "handicap" of 69!
Nobu struggled with the driver and sent numerous balls out of bounds just a few metres away. On several holes in the second 9, Nobu reached "10" on the fairway, but David couldn't extend his lead because he reached "10" on the green!

Nobu's final score was 163.

Golfer's Progress: Feeble and Ready-To-Halt bring up the rear.

Jaime came in in the low 90's, pipping Noda to the top spot.

It's well worth playing golf at Takanosu if only because the bath feels like heaven afterwards.

In the evening all but Jaime gathered at a Spanish restaurant in town called Barca to celebrate the day.



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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Monday 4th May: Golf Practice Or How To Drive A Ball 100 Yards With Any Club...

Ah yes, golf.

Having avoided this subject for virtually a year, I found myself having to dust off Mr David Leadbetter's book "The Golf Swing" and haul my neglected clubs out of the attic in preparation for a round of golf at Takanosu Golf Club somewhere in the Japanese countryside north west of Hiroshima.

It all came about because I happen to "teach" Mrs W, the owner of the club, English. Or, more accurately, we play mahjong along with Mrs T at Mrs T's house while chatting in English - at least in a form of English that includes all the usual Japanese terminology for playing mahjong.

Mrs W is a keen golfer who has become hooked on mahjong. She and Mrs T sometimes join our games of 3-player mahjong on Friday evenings. Both Noda and Jaime are keen mahjong players who happen to be hooked on golf so it did not take long for everyone to agree that it would be a spiffing idea if we made up a party and played golf at Takanosu during Golden Week.

By coincidence, the best day for everybody was May 4th, aptly designated "Midori no hi" or "Green Day".

Now, as I say, I had not so much as touched a golf club for virtually a year. Not since I scored something like 158 on the easy 9 hole course on the Ota river in the northern outskirts of Hiroshima.

So, on Monday 3rd May I hauled David Leadbetter's book and four clubs up to the driving range at Mitaki to do a bit of practice... The four clubs were my driver, and the 6, 7 and 9 irons. Anything below 6 is a complete waste of time and effort as far as I'm concerned.

Just as I feared, I was stuck between a highly competent chap who was blasting his balls all the way up the driving range with his great swinging driver. He was behind me so he could see exactly what I was up to. In front of me was a young lady with a personal "trainer" many years her senior. He sat on a chair and observed in that expressionless way so beloved of the natives of these parts.

I delayed the moment of truth for as long as possible with the rituals of (1) getting clubs out of bag, (2) getting a drink from the drinks machine (3) getting a basket of 50 balls from the ball dispenser and (4) reading David Leadbetter with a great show of concentration...

Actually, reading DL's book did me a lot of good. I picked up a detail I'd missed before - that I ought to shift my weight on my right leg from the ball to the heel on the upswing...

Armed - or footed - with this new nugget of technical know-how, I picked up the most promising of my range of clubs, the trusty no. 9, the easiest iron in the bag and got stuck in.

After a few toppings and slicings I got back into the rhythm and managed to loft a few balls somewhere between 50-90 yards more or less straight ahead.

The next 50 balls were dedicated to the no. 7 iron. The next 50 balls to the no. 6. Both irons, when they made decent contact with the ball sent it around 100 yards up the driving range. Whenever I got tired and started topping the ball, I reduced the swing to a half swing and built up from there. I also found it convenient to blast a series of balls at top speed.

The final 50 balls were dedicated to my driver. By now the bloke behind me and the girl and her chum had disappeared. There was no one around to notice the ball that my driver sent rolling off the tee to end up four feed behind me. As for all the sliced shots, or the ones that set off in a straight line until they reached the 30 yard mark and then scooted off to the right in a sort of delayed slice, I don't suppose many people noticed.

Just as with the 6 and 7 irons, my driver, when it behaved itself, sent the ball approximately 100 yards up the driving range...

I now had a blister on my left index finger and a red weal on the palm of my hand. 200 balls satisfactorily blasted (or topped or sliced) off the tee. Time to go home and sleep off golf practice in preparation for Green Day at Takanosu...

David Hurley

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