THE CHINA HI-TECH Fair takes itself very seriously. Held every October in Shenzhen, the fair attracts high-ranking mainland and Hong Kong officials, foreign government ministers and Nobel laureates. It hosts early Saturday morning seminars on scintillating subjects such as 'Semiconductor Heterostructures and its Application in Modern Information Technology'. Wherever there is earnestness, however, absurdity is never far away. Time, then, for a quick tour of the fair's lighter side. People attending the fair's opening ceremony - be they a delegation from the Shenzhen Party School or a half-dozen representatives of overseas media organisations - usually arrive by bus. As the buses enter the fairground, they run a gauntlet of young schoolchildren, most of whom are not much taller than the coach wheels rolling past them. The children, in school uniforms and their cheeks reddened with rouge, wave flowers at each passing bus and chant 'Wel-come, Wel-come, Warm-ly Wel-come!' It is, of course, all very cute. But the morning sun beating down on the children is hot, and chanting the same words to dozens upon dozens of passing vehicles must be pretty monotonous for kids who - given a choice - would probably rather be in maths class. But the fair's silliest spectacle is that which follows the official opening. During the opening ceremony, central government officials and their clunky translators slowly lull the crowd to sleep with poetry such as 'October is bringing cosy breeze to every corner of these modern city named Shenzhen' - or with insights like 'high technology is a major symbol of advanced productivity in era of knowledge-based economy'. The last speech is punctuated - and the crowd shocked awake - by a cannon shot of confetti, a burst of fireworks and a full-dress People's Liberation Army band. It is at this point that the fun really begins. Standing on a platform between the exhibition hall and the crowd, the VIPs enter first, followed by their revived audience. Most of the VIPs quickly disperse, becoming invisible as the crowd catches up and absorbs them. The most senior Chinese government officials present, however, remain readily visible thanks to their 100-strong retinue of black- and blue-suited hangers-on. From a distance, the scene resembles one of those inside-the-hive nature documentaries where a nectar-laden bee is swarmed as it communicates - through a complicated dance - the location of a nearby flower patch. At this year's fair the dancing bees at the centre of the swarm were, in descending order on the guest list, State Councillor Wu Yi, Guangdong party secretary Li Changchun and Guangdong governor Lu Ruihuan. Ms Wu is getting on in years and was in high heels. But even so, she, Mr Li and Mr Lu surged with remarkable speed from exhibit to exhibit. After stepping into their slipstream, one was pulled along like a second-placed cyclist or runner just behind the leader. But each time Ms Wu stopped, the entourage would fold into itself like an accordion, only to decompress minutes later when the state councillor headed off again. The most chaotic moments occurred when Ms Wu found herself in a dead-end exhibit and had to retrace her steps. This manoeuvre forced her back through her followers, who stumbled into each other and then parted like the Red Sea before Moses. Patriotically, Ms Wu spent most of her time in the hall reserved for exhibits by China's provinces and cities, though she missed one of the more interesting displays. This was a 1950s-era Red Flag limo equipped with an electric motor courtesy of Thunder Sky Green Power Source (Shenzhen). Ms Wu's longest stop seemed to be at Shenzhen's display, where she inspected a space-age-design mobile-phone earpiece and admired two cloned sheep. Later, after Ms Wu had left the building, your correspondent ventured back to interview the sheep and find out more about their conversation with the dignitaries. But the sheep - perhaps annoyed that they were confined to a cage only just large enough for them to stand in - refused to answer any questions. This aroused suspicions that maybe they were merely robots in a woolly disguise. Speaking for the sheep, a representative of their manufacturer - Shenzhen Lupeng Agricultural Hi-Tech Enterprise - vouched that they were in fact the genuine article and bragged of having three more back on the company farm. As if on cue, Sheep Mark 1 began to urinate. As the sheep's stream reverberated against the cage's thin metal floor and sprayed out on to the display area, the seemingly oblivious spokesman carried on without so much as missing a bleat. Seconds later, Sheep Mark Two began to pass dung pellets that also spilled on to the display floor, prompting their interviewer to terminate his investigation and head for cover. No doubt the kids outside would have loved it.