Day 13: A closer look at Hefei

Today we slept in until lunch time - we are all still quite jet lagged, since China is 7 hours ahead of Europe. Then we were taken to a banquet lunch at the military hotel, held in our honour, with lots of officials of the local government.

The food was delicious, cooked by the best chef in Anhui. One dish was presented to us as a delicacy of the region. To me, it just looked like a plate full of boiled eggs. The technique for eating them is to poke a straw inside the egg then suck out the centre. I was surprised to find that it tasted very favoursome, like stock, and had a watery consistency, with some chunky bits.
TINA: this is a very special dish. There is meat inside the egg. Chicken meat.
ME: Wow! How do they get the chicken inside the egg?
ME: Oh. My. God.

I peered inside the egg, to find a baby chicken embryo curled up, all grey and squashed. Here is a photo. Don't look if you get grossed out easily.

There is a Chinese tradition that each guest at the table must make a toast to the guests of honor (us), then both  people must down a shot of 40% proof Chinese white wine. So if there are many people at the table, the guests of honor end up having to toast dozens of times. Then to demonstrate their admiration, individuals can toast the guests of honour, again and again and again. Luckily, I managed to stay quite sober today, thanks to a discreet wine-disposal-in-teacup technique I perfected last night.

In the afternoon, we explored some of the city of Hefei. Everything is so different here - I think Hefei a is much more Chinese city than Shanghai. Shanghai had more of a European feel. Hefei is one of China's smaller cities, with only 3.5 million inhabitants. It also hosts one of China's biggest chemical plants. The city is a jungle of skyscrapers, flashing neon signs, and traffic. Here is a view from my hotel room on the 15th floor.

And from another window:

On ground level, there are lots of little stalls being wheeled around, with different types of foods - this one sold pig ears and trotters!

And here's a view down the street.

In the evening, we were treated to tickets to a Chinese ballet / opera. It was spectacular! The dancers were amazingly flexible and synchronised, with beautiful, colourful costumes. The amount of skill and co-ordination they displayed was truly impressive. Apparently they train very intensively from an early age. Here are a few photos - I'll upload videos later.

We got a bit of a surprise when we arrived there though - after waiting in a small room with a few other guests, military music started playing, then the doors opened to reveal a hall packed with thousands of people. We had to parade out in front of everyone - the audience was applauding us, then we sat in a row of elevated seats in front of everyone, as honoured guests. It was completely surreal. Then the show began with a commentator, who introduced two VIPs sitting beside us, who stood one by one to accept applause from the audience, then us! The audience was cheering when we each stood up to wave to them. I was shaking. I love performing, but it's so unexpected and unnerving to be suddenly treated like a celebrity for NO reason at all. Then at the end of the opera, as the public was applauding the dancers who were all lined up on stage taking their bows, we had to walk ONTO THE STAGE, after the important officials, and shake hands with each of the main dancers!!! Then pose in the middle of the cast, as the public took photos. SO surreal.

And afterwards we were treated to another dinner with lots more VIPs and delicious food. The amount of variety in the food here is really quite impressive.