The Giant: Gaining Weight in China; Losing Weight in China

Eating in China
All images courtesy of Michael Bush

The Giant:
Gaining Weight in China; Losing Weight in China

| published October 17, 2015 |

By Michael Bush, Thursday Review writer


My whole life I have never felt tall. I’ve always considered myself average height; neither short, nor a giant. It’s not hard to understand that when you see me side by side with my two brothers. At an even 6 feet tall (not 5’11” like my younger brother Josh would have you believe), I still have to look up at my older and younger brothers. Josh is somewhere around 6’3”, I’m guessing, and my older brother is in the ballpark of 45 to 50 feet tall at best estimate.

I have always, however, felt like a big fat yeast roll. Sure, being fat helped me develop my awesome sense of humor, which helped me make friends, which helped me start a band, which helped me attract my future wife…so you could say that being fat made me the luckiest man in the world.

Be that as it may, and beyond those side benefits, being fat sucks for the most part. You can’t easily take the stairs, you can’t find clothes that fit your body well, you can’t eat without feeling like someone, or everyone, is watching and judging the hell out of you… it’s a nightmare.

Not that I tried really hard to change, mind you. Sure, there was one year where I changed my diet, worked out several times a week, and drank copious amounts of water. I got down to around 200 lbs, and that is the lightest I’ve ever been as an adult.

When I moved to China, I was in the 350 pound range. I know this, because we were forced to get physicals upon arrival in China. They took us to a hospital that ran like an assembly line: wait in line at this door for an x-ray, then, when finished with that go and wait in line at this door for someone to poke at you and tell you your liver is fatty. Then go wait in line at yet another door for an eye exam, etc. All in all, it was a real fun experience to be reminded many times that I was not in good shape, in any way, at any place on my bloated, fat body.

Now, before moving to China I read up on cultural differences in order to prepare myself. One thing I read over and over is that in China people will stare, point, and even touch fat people. I thought to myself, usually in my best tough-guy American accent, “they better not do that to me!” But they did. And they did it all the time.

Now, all of this attention somehow didn’t make me go on a murderous rampage through the streets of Shanghai and eating the locals like steamed buns. I was okay with it in a way that I never would have been in the U.S. I think it was due to the knowledge that in China, the prevalent culture is to speak your mind on interpersonal things. Don’t hold back. Back home most people, well the ones with manners, would never tell you that you are not very attractive. It’s just not politically correct. But in China, they won’t shy away from saying things like, “you are not very handsome.” Talk about an ego boost.

Though, one time I did get told that I “look just like Kobe Bryant.” It was, and still is, the most confusing thing anyone has ever said to me.

So, despite the reminders of how truly large and fat I had become, I actually felt better about myself. I was like, “that’s right! I’m fat and you better get out of my way or I’ll fall on you.” This meant that instead of watching what I ate, I ate everything I saw. And of course, I gained more weight.

eating in china
(l to r) bbq chicken hearts, takoyaki, fried chicken

At this point, I was not only fat (and getting fatter!) I was also a good bit taller than most people I met. Sure, there are lots of tall Chinese people. But there are a lot more short ones. I towered over so many people, that I finally felt like a giant. Somehow, I went from feeling normal height and fat in America, to super tall and… well, fat, but not caring how fat in China.

Fatter not taller     Female monk at Temple

One time in particular when I felt like I lived atop a beanstalk was on an occasion when I stayed at a hostel in Beijing. The hostel scene in China is spectacular. Cheap rooms (even private ones with en suite bathrooms), exceptionally clean rooms, cool common rooms where one can meet other travelers, plenty of good beer, advice on what to do in town, help setting up travel arrangements… the list goes on. I’d rather do hostels in China than nice hotels, as the hotels are usually a let-down. And since you never really expect much from a hostel, you’re usually pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, this place was great and felt right out of a kung fu movie. Stone walls, courtyards, cool Chinese stuff everywhere…I was in love with it. We got into our room, put our stuff down, and then all the water I drank on the train suddenly caught up to me. I rushed toward the bathroom, lest I become a peepeepants as they are known on the streets, and suddenly felt like the victim of a brutal scalping. The doorframe was so low, that I collided with it, taking a chunk out of the metal just as it took a chunk out of my head. It was oh-so-very-painful. And we stayed in that room a week. That’s right: one full week of reopening the wound again and again and again because I was too stupid to remember to duck each time. Michael on scooter

Another time I realized I was large and not in charge was on the occasion of my first scooter purchase in China. My Singaporean friend, Cris, helped to organize a scooter purchase for two of my friends and me through a contact I found. We all decided to start a gang, and we all got the same kind of scooter. We even had a killer name, “The ScooterButts.” We never did get the jackets though. Well, the day of delivery arrived, and I mounted my scooter with all the machismo I could muster. I was going to rule the streets with an iron fist atop a steed worthy of heroic deeds. We took photos posing on the machines. Then I saw a picture of myself on this thing, and I realized I looked like one of those circus bears on a tiny bike.

I think I was about three years into our Chinese adventure when I finally had enough. I may have been taller than a lot of the locals, but I was tired of being triple their weight. The problem is, in China, the food is so damn good and the beer is so damn cheap. How would I ever lose weight? I mean, if you’ve been following my articles here at Thursday Review, by now you might say, “yes, but…everything you’ve told us about the food there is gross.” And you’d be right (see my article, Remove Your Shoes Before Entering the House). I just haven’t really told you about the good stuff yet. I won’t tell you all about how good the good stuff is now. I’m building to that for some later articles, and you won’t be disappointed. Think of your favorite Chinese restaurant anywhere—the U.S., England, Canada, anyplace in Europe—then double it in quality. Just trust me when I say that real Chinese food is some of the best stuff on Earth. It will drive you insane.

Cheap beer   chaomian

candied fruit   sugar cane juice

In order to slim down and stop being the center of attention everywhere I went, I made some drastic and scary changes in my life.

1. No more beer in the house. Only drink sparingly when going out.

2. No more sodas.

3. Cook more, and cook fresh.

And, yeah, that’s all I did. That’s my secret. In one year, I lost 100 pounds. I’m now down to 250 pounds, and I’m still trying to get back to my “fighting weight” from the old days, or roughly 200 pounds. It might be even harder now that we’re in Malaysia, home of the most delicious food in the Milky Way Galaxy, but I’m doing my best.

After the weight loss in China, I noticed something crazy. No one noticed me anymore. I mean, yeah, I still had to take pictures with people, but that was due to being white, having a beard, and having lots of tattoos. I was still a sideshow freak to some people; I was just the Tattooed Man and the Bearded Lady, no longer the World’s Fattest Ogre Bear. No one poked, prodded, slapped, or even looked at my gut. People stopped asking me how much I weighed. And no old people gave me the thumbs up and told me “good job!” for my apparent financial success.

It was awesome to go mostly unnoticed. I felt like all of my other laowai (foreigner) friends. We could cruise the streets as ScooterButts, and the only reason people would only stare at us was because we were not Chinese. It was basically joy at being judged for the color of my skin rather than the fat under my shirt.

By the time I left China, I was still taller than most of them, but now, I was only twice their weight. My career as Santa Clause was over.

Final   feefifofum

Related Thursday Review articles:

Remove Your Shoes Before Entering the House (Or, the Grossest Article You Will Ever Read at Thursday Review); Michael Bush; Thursday Review; October 9, 2015.

The Long Corridor: How An American Adjusts to Living in China; Michael Bush; Thursday Review; September 19, 2015.