Not long after I moved to Jersey City, I started using meetup.com. A few friends in town used it to plan events and meet new people. Of course, I rarely attended the local events. However, I also found a Mandarin Monday group in New York that seemed to have regular meetings.
The first couple times I went to the meetings, it was in a large restaurant by the Empire State Building. Unfortunately, the food was rather bland and expensive. But, the people were fun to talk with, even if some of them spoke little to no Mandarin. As I began teaching at the community college, I couldn't attend the meetings in the city. Or, more accurately, I was too tired to take the PATH into the city for an expensive dinner.
Since then, they group has changed restaurants a few times. Now, they meet at Great Sichuan (not to be confused with my favorite Chinese restaurant in Jersey City, Grand Sichuan), which serves much better food at a cheaper price than the original meet up restaurant.
Last night was one of the more interesting meetings of the group. It was only 10 people (we had more than 20 last week). It was mostly an older crowd that didn't speak much Chinese, but they provided some interesting conversation. One attendee spoke with me about visiting Xinjiang--he had visited the province in the late '80s. Another one got to see Shenzhen from the Hong Kong border in the years just prior to Deng Xiaoping, when the city was still a collection of fishing villages with a population of about 20,000.
Now that classes begin again next week, I hope I can find the time and energy to attend more of these meet ups. It might provide more motivation to study.