Travelling Fingers

pointing hand

Marco Polo traveled through China around 1275, dropping off bits of Venetian culture and picking up Chinese inventions. Polo’s accounts of his travels created the first written record of porcelain, coal, gunpowder, printing, paper money, and silk.

No one knows for sure who originated the drinking game shared by Italy as Moira, and China as Hua Chuan — loosely translated from Chinese as finger guessing. The idea is to guess the number of finger’s on one’s opponent’s hand when he throws out his fist, and add it to the tossed digits of one’s own. The one who calls the sum total wins. Being a Chinese game, it is the loser who must drink the wine.

To start, each raises his fist while shouting out a number and flings his hand forward to show the number of fingers he is playing. If one plays two fingers, then the other, to win, should call “three” while playing one finger, “four,” playing two, etc. The call numbers vary between zero and ten.

Numbers are rattled off in rapid succession in a shrill voice, like a military command. The hands should rise and fall in rhythm. When the wrong number is called out, the loser must drink. To avoid being caught, the player must change his fingers constantly. Meanwhile, he must guess the right number.

Quick wits and dexterous fingers are winning assets. But a loud and domineering voice is priceless. Short of blows and poking fingers in the other’s eyes, there is no rule against bullying one’s opponent.

The loser suffers a loss of dignity known in China as Face.

My husband spent his first ten years in pre-World War II China where his expatriate father worked as an agent for the Standard Oil Company. Once they returned to the U.S. he played fingers after dinner every night with his father and brother. The loser had to do the dishes.

“Never crybaby when you lose,” Pop always said.

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