March 14, 2011

Team Oprah/Shanghai Nights

For some strange and glorious reason, my social life has fallen into place after my Spring Festival adventure in Southeast Asia. I actually feel like I have a life here with a solid group of friends and new acquaintances each weekend. Of course, now that I feel established here, I have to get ready to go home in seven short weeks...

Thursday nights kick of a four-day marathon of socializing. A few of us started going to trivia at a cafe in early December. The first time we went, our entire team was made up of women. Desperate for a name and short on time to pick one, we chose "Team Oprah" because she's a legend of a woman. With a name like that, we felt confident we would dominate the predominantly male crowd.

Maybe the name made us a little bit cocky or perhaps we weren't really sure how things worked at trivia, but we ended up in last place. Consistently last -- even after five rounds. We never even came in second-to-last. The next week was much of the same, but we were minimally better prepared and found ourselves in the middle of the pack for a couple of rounds. Overall, we still came in last place of four or five teams.

We continued going, week after week, then took a month off for travels. Each time we went we got better and better, but still we couldn't break the top tier. With Team Oprah two ladies short after Spring Festival (Alex and Sophie went home), we had to adopt some guys to complete our team of six. 

Still we struggled. We could knock out the current events round and were usually decent at music, but the movie round and the two host's choice rounds were debilitating to our score. There was a round or two where we managed second place, but the top prize eluded us. By this point, Team Oprah had developed a reputation for having plenty of heart, but little skill.

Finally last Thursday, it all came together. We went 10 for 10 in current events and had a solid showing in the bonus. As the host read scores from the bottom to the top, our team was giddy that maybe for the first time ever we won a round.

All of our nervous tics came out to play -- giggles, twitchy legs, restless sips of beer -- then the announcement came. For the first time ever at Vineyard Cafe's trivia, Team Oprah was victorious! 

We cheered and savored our round of free drinks.

Then everything started to click -- we won round two, came in second round three, and had the lead going into the fourth round: movies. This round killed us -- we scored a measly five points, while the second place competitors brought in 24. We got our stride back in the final round and got a perfect score naming every artist and title of the music round's playlist.

Three out of five rounds, Oprah came out on top! We thought maybe, just maybe, we had won the entire game.

Yet again, our confidence got the best of us yet again and we came in three points behind the leaders. We're all about the scrappiness, and I have no doubt Team Oprah will soon rule the board.

Saturday morning, my newfound crew and I got on a bullet train bound for Shanghai. We were there within an hour and shortly thereafter I was enjoying a slice of Pizza Margherita at an Italian trattoria in the French Concession. I keep like-minded company, so we all happily planned our weekend around great restaurants and cafes. 

Early on in my adventure through Vietnam, I got an email from an old friend from high school who I had last touch with in 2007. Through the miracles of modern communication, he found out that I was living a short train ride away in Hangzhou. He moved to Shanghai in August and teaches at an international high school. All along we've practically been neighbors and didn't even realize it -- he has even been to Hangzhou since I've lived here!

We met up at a cafe Saturday afternoon and spent the rest of the day catching up on the last few years as we ambled around the city. Shanghai -- or at least the French Concession -- makes la vie flâneur  a real possibility, which is an extremely rare thing in China. The neighborhood begs you to saunter slowly down the sidewalks and window shop in the countless boutiques. 

Despite its massive population, the city is filled with alleyways that open up into small piazzas or courtyards. Side streets are lined with trees and it's not hard to find areas where you're not drowning in sky scrapers. 

Saturday night we continued our trend of deliciousness by eating at a place called Element Fresh. True to its name, it was fresh and light with a diverse menu. We got appetizers, dessert and cocktails. After dinner we went to the hotel to change into nicer clothes -- there's really no reason to ever dress up in Hangzhou, so putting heels on felt strange and wonderful. Shanghai is not a city to save money in, I would go broke and then some if I lived there on my current paycheck. It's swimming in fantastic restaurants, bars and shopping areas... we couldn't help but treat ourselves to a luxe little weekend.

We went to a few bars Saturday night, including one named Dakota. It was a classy joint with delicious drinks. My fellow ND friend and I joked about how far we've come since hanging out at state FBLA conferences in high school to meeting up for drinks in Shanghai.

Sunday morning brought the prospect of a legitimate breakfast (my favorite meal of the day). Three of us went to a restaurant called Mesa in the French Concession and sat on their second floor patio. We soaked up the 70 degree sunshine and snacked on fresh croissants as we waited for our omelettes and eggs benedict with pumpkin Hollandaise sauce. We spent the afternoon enjoying la vie flâneur and drinking plenty of delicious espresso and cappuccino... but before long, our dreamy bubble was burst and we found ourselves on a bullet train back to Hangzhou.

I seemed to have left my voice in Shanghai, however. After catching a nasty cold over the weekend, I have strict orders from a doctor not to say a word for the next 24 hours. I've drank nearly a gallon of lemon tea today and am going to spend tomorrow as a hermit in my apartment.

Earlier today I had hoped I would have an exciting post to write about going to the doctor in Hangzhou.. I went to a hospital and expected it to be a debacle. It turned out that a lovely international clinic was lurking on the fifth floor of a massive medical complex. I watched CNN in the waiting room and was greeted by two doctors from Michigan. It was disturbingly easy and streamline for China... a nice surprise no doubt.

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