I must begin by describing a harrowing incident which took place on Sunday evening.  Whilst talking with a local sculptor and his wife in a poorly lit area of a gallery, I nonchalantly popped what I assumed was a grape into my mouth.  Imagine my horror when it revealed itself to be an inappropriately shaped cherry tomato.  Unable to spit it out, I had to bravely power through it, before beginning a frantic search for some 'Great Wall' Merlot to take the taste away.

In another gastronomic adventure, I had the local speciality Hotpot with a group of university lecturers.  The meal consists of a boiling cauldron of oil flavoured with chilli and the local lip numbing pepper set in the centre of the table, in which various ingredients are cooked - in this case small river fish, pak choi, mushrooms, cucumber, bean-sprouts, and a rice jelly which looked like chunks of raw tuna steak, tasted mainly of the cooking oil and had the texture of a Knorr stock pot.  Apparently a delicacy, for me its main selling point was that it could be swallowed without needing to remain in the mouth very long.  There was also rice, beer and a cold mushroom that looked like the carapace of a stag beetle, with the texture of suede and the taste of silt.  Everyone helps themselves from this pot into their own bowls, apparently unaware of the resultant third degree burns on their wrists.  Whilst I demurely removed fish bones from mouth with chop sticks, and negotiated various internal organs, the most senior member of the group favoured the 'spitting indigestibles directly onto the table' method.  I'd read this was correct table etiquette, so was not completely unprepared.  Luckily the man opposite me had perhaps the most spectacular comb-over I've ever seen, so I was able to focus on that.  A bit like a demonic fondue, without the salopettes and car keys in a dish (unless I misunderstood the tea ceremony) and thoroughly enjoyable.  The custom here is for the person of the highest status to pay for dinner, which could well lead to me never paying for a meal again if I can successfully import the practice.

In non-subsistence related news, a small van selling some kind of caramelised tofu has taken up residence outside my window playing 'It's a Small World' on a loop.  And the rats are mounting a concerted campaign on my tupperware defences.

Today's top snack; 'Small Fragile Walnut Meat Biscuits'.