Tall Tales: Travels in Inner Mongolia

As a journalist based in China, sometimes you are assigned to cover news conferences on the six-party talks, sometimes you cover natural disasters and sometimes you cover the wedding of the tallest man in Inner Mongolia.

The latter is bound to be much more fun.

According to the Guinness World Records book, the tallest man in the world is Xi Shun, a native of Mongolia. He is 7 feet, 9 inches tall.

Sure, that sounds tall, but you can't really grasp his height until you see him with your own eyes. He is massive, and his bride-to-be stands 5 feet, 5 inches. That makes great television.

Xi Shun lives in a town called Chifeng, and he got married in Ordos. A camera crew, a Chinese translator and I went to both. We are all young, all slightly aggressive and all of us were expecting Inner Mongolia to be nothing but sticks.

Wrong.

Chifeng is quite developed, with tall buildings, good restaurants and a four-star hotel where the rooms are nicer than my apartment and cost only $60 a night. On the first day, we arrived in the afternoon and went around the town to shoot video.

It was cozy and clean and the weather was perfect — the sky was blue and the air was clean. The locals were charming and as fascinated by us as we were by them.

Xi Shun is Chifeng's local celebrity, so everyone we met knew about him and his nuptials. Off-camera, many of them expressed doubt about whether the couple's love was true — he is 56 and she is only 28. They also questioned his ability to make her pregnant. But on-camera, they would only wish them the best.

When the sun went down, we had dinner with our local driver. I was worried there would only be lamb on the menu, but the food was typical for China, except for the abundance of local yogurt and cheese. I prefer brie, but our translator liked it.

We spent the next day with Xi Shun and his soon-to-be wife. Xi Shun makes his living by being the tallest man in the world. He does ads for local companies and he has sponsors. He is very accustomed to media attention and claims to like it.

His story is a great one. He was a sheep herder before he went into the military. He wanted to be a basketball player, but his rheumatism kept him from it. When he got out of the military, he had trouble finding steady work. He could not afford custom-made pants and shoes, so he walked around with pants that were too short and shoes that were too small, even in the cold Mongolian winter.

Xi Shun resigned himself to the fact that he would not find a wife. He was just too tall and did not make a good living. Then Guinness World Records Ltd. came along and he got an agent.

Now, of course, a tailor makes his pants and Adidas sends him shoes. His agent introduced him to a young lady and he found love. One of his sponsors is building him a home so the new couple doesn't have to live in his one-room apartment. You could say he has embraced his height.

Now it's a gift, instead of a very big annoyance. And unlike some celebrities, all the media attention has not gone to his head — he is a very sweet man.

After trailing Xi Shun for a day, we all went to dinner. The restaurant's menu was posted on the wall and was half the size of a football field with photos of every dish, which is helpful in figuring out whether or not your chicken or fish or duck or lamb will come with the head still attached. We ordered a lot of food.

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