In the Ningxia province

The Ningxia province of China is one of the smallest ones. It is poorer than the national average, but looks quite developed and equipped with good infrastructure (e.g. motorways). It is populated by a Muslim minority that can be recognized by the skullcap that people wear. The landscape is almost set in one colour, which gives it a sort of nostalgic outlook. We visited a prefecture, a township and a village, hence going down and down the Chinese administrative system. The days of work provided opportunities to meet many health care workers working in the field, however, interactions are considerably limited if one does not speak Chinese. Our hosts, the health officials in charge of international cooperation were hospitable, informal and friendly. It’s a nice field trip that ends everyday with a banquet and the “dice game”.

The dice game, we’ll call it “sen ga nega” is an interesting introduction to China. After each day of work, our national counterparts from the province organized a banquet during which we started to play. The game comes as two sets of three dice in a mug. The dices look like the ones we use in the West expect for the “1” that is larger and red. There are two players. Both shake the dices under the mug and check the results. Then, one starts, usually by a standard “sen ga nega”, which means “three anything”, suggesting that in the combination of the two sets of three dices, there will be three instances of either “2s”, “3s”, “4s”, “5s” or “6s” (The “1” counts as a joker than can take any value). Then, from that point on, both players exchange bets as in an auction on what the result might be, but the bets can only be towards a progressive increase, both in terms of the number of instances and in the values of the dice. For example, one can go from “3-anything” to “4-anything” to 4 “3s” to 5 “4“ etc… At any step, one of the players can stop the game by saying “open” to check the result. Then, both players uncover their dices, and the last one who auctioned wins if the dices are consistent with the auction or loose if it does not work out. Of course, lots of bluffing goes on, so there is more psychology than chance. Now, the catch is the one who looses has to drink a shot of alcohol, which provides a rapid incentive to learning the tricks…. I got into the game quite a bit (probably to avoid drinking…), showed them a picture of a Western version of dice game (poker). Then, the joke became that I was good at it because it was also a French game. On the day of my departure, my counterparts offered me two sets of dice to play back home! Going back to Beijing after that trip triggers a bit of nostalgia. It’s not the same feeling. Beijing has really turned into a huge metropolis. It has its interest, but no-one plays the “sen-ga-nega”dice game.