Zunhua, China (AFP) Nov 4, 2008
A meeting with the world's tallest man -- China's Bao Xishun -- can leave the visitor feeling he has reached the top of the beanstalk and stepped into the giant's castle.
The 2.36-metre (7-feet 9-inch) Bao receives guests seated in an enormous tailor-made upholstered chair and will soon move into a new home in this small city near Beijing with giant doorways and even a giant-sized toilet.
The black jacket draped over his shoulders is as big as a curtain and the massive hands of the man recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the planet's tallest engulf a proffered handshake.
It's all been a recipe for success for the former goatherd, who is riding high after losing, then regaining, his Guinness ranking, recently marrying and becoming a father last month.
"I am definitely better off. And I've got a son now so I'm certainly more happy," Bao told AFP in a baritone that seems to rumble from some deep fissure.
Bao, 57, was first recognised by the Guinness Book in 2005 as the world's tallest man and his resulting celebrity has brought appearance fees and Guinness-sponsored trips to Europe, Asia and South America.
Yet he remains a simple man, preferring to pass his time watching basketball on television and dreaming big dreams for his long-awaited infant son, Tianyou.
"I want him to grow up to be a basketball player," said Bao, who played in the People's Liberation Army before his poor mobility put an end to that.
Bao spent nearly a lifetime unable to find a willing wife, and captured hearts worldwide with a much-publicised search.
That ended in March of last year when he married Xia Shujuan, now 29, who also hails from his home town of Chifeng, Inner Mongolia.
Xia, whose own 1.68-metre height reaches just above Bao's waist, has more down-to-earth hopes for Tianyou, who was 56 centimetres at birth, just above normal.
"I was happy (Tianyou) was normal-sized. If he grows to just 1.8 or 1.9 metres, that's fine with me," she said.
Born of normal-sized parents, Bao was the tallest person in Chifeng by the age of 16, he said. He did not stop growing until he was 22.
Despite his recent success, the mellow and polite Bao is melancholy about life as a giant in a conformist society such as China. He would trade it all to walk through a door without ducking.
"Of course, I sometimes wish I was normal-sized. Going through doors, getting around in cars, staying in hotels where the beds are always too short, it's all very inconvenient," he said, adding that finding his size 56 shoes has also been a problem.
In 2006, Bao lost his Guinness title to Leonid Stadnyk of the Ukraine, who reportedly stands a startling 2.57 metres.
However, the Guinness Book does not recognise people whose height stems from a medical condition, and restored Bao this year after Stadnyk refused to be examined.
"Before all this, I thought there must be something wrong with me, being so tall. I was worried. But after being certified as the tallest natural-growth person, it definitely eased my mind," Bao said.
"And it has its advantages. If I need to change a light bulb, I just reach up and do it," he joked.
Bao also made headlines in 2006 when called on to use his long arms to pull trash from the stomachs of two dolphins at a Chinese aquarium.
Bao and Xia live temporarily in a tiny apartment in Zunhua, about three hours' drive from Beijing, but his days of ducking beneath doorways will end soon, at least at home.
A nearby scenic park is building him a tailor-made home in its grounds in the hope that he will lure more tourists.
Nearly completed, the modern house has 2.40-metre-high doorways and soaring windows. The bed platform in the master bedroom is 2.4 metres long and a toilet of Guinness proportions is on the way.
"The seat will be about this high," Bao said, holding his hand more than a metre above the floor, during a tour of the house.
As an ethnic Mongolian, Bao is exempt from China's one-child policy, and could have one more if he wanted.
"One is enough," he insists brusquely, when asked.
But Xia is not so sure.
"It's still early," Xia said, while fussing over her swaddled baby.
"We will decide on that later."
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