When you stand 7′ 9" tall, you are going to stand out. For a shy person like Bao Xishun, the world’s tallest man, this can be a problem.
"Wherever I appear, I immediately become the center of attention. But back in my hometown, I still live a normal life," 55-year-old Bao told China Daily, wearing his 2005 Guinness World Record badge on his chest.
Bao, a native of Inner Mongolia, came to the port city of Dalian in Northeast China’s Liaoning Province this month to be treated for rheumatism, a disease that has plagued him for the past 36 years.
His appearance in the clinic caused chaos. People gathered around and jostled for a view of the extraordinary sight, but Bao remained friendly and allowed people to take photos with him.
In the clinic, a chair was specially made for him and the bed lengthened.
"Even the dose for his treatment is twice as much as normal," said doctor Sun Zhijie. Explaining the treatment, Sun said he uses traditional Chinese medicine to treat affected parts of the legs.
"After one more course of treatment, the aches will disappear," the doctor promised.
Bao was born in 1951 into a herdsman’s family in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. His family is said to be descended from the offspring of Genghis Khan, the founder of Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), but he and his five siblings had a simple childhood.
Until the age of 15 he was of normal height, but then he went through a massive growth spurt, reaching 2.1 metres by the time he was 20. He developed rheumatism when he was young, as he often slept outside on the grassland with legs uncovered.
His father took him to Shenyang, capital of neighbouring Liaoning Province, in search of treatment. While he was there he was spotted by an army basketball coach, who was so impressed by his height that he recruited him.
Bao rates his time in the army as the happiest of his life, but unfortunately, his legs began to fail him and treatment proved ineffective.
"Yao Ming would be the second Bao Xishun if Bao were a successful player," said former coach Leng Wanju.
"If it weren’t for the disease, I might have become a basketball superstar just like Yao," Bao said with a shrug.
After three years in the army, Bao was discharged, and he returned to his grassland home. he struggled to settle down and find a wife, and gradually he became more and more withdrawn.
His mother’s death when he was 40 came as a hammer blow. She had been an integral part of his life, making clothes and shoes for him and looking after his welfare.
He shut himself off from the world until 2004, when a restaurant owner in Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, transformed his life.
The man, named Xin Xing, invited him to serve as a greeter for 10 days, and his extraordinary presence at the door quickly attracted attention from the press. A newspaper in Chifeng city helped him visit a local hospital, where doctors reassured him that he wasn’t suffering gigantism.
Bao was relieved. "I’m a normal person, growing naturally," he said.
In late 2004, the local newspaper applied to Guinness for Bao to be listed as the tallest man living in the world. As he was 0.2 cm taller than the record holder Radhouane Charbib of Tunisia, he was awarded the title.
On July 21, 2005, Bao got the Guinness certificate in his hometown and was invited to London in September for a Guinness global activity, catapulting him to international fame.
In June this year, he went to Japan for a TV interview, and last month he was part of a Shanghai TV show. He is the face of several medical products, and now when he leaves home it is almost always for some commercial or media events, organized by the restaurateur Xin.
Despite the trappings of fame, Bao remains shy: " I want to live a normal life like my father, who is 94."
Bao spends his mornings walking and afternoons playing cards with his neighbours, occasionally reading some Mongolian books.
But there is aso some excitement in his life: Bao now has a girlfriend, who he hopes to marry.