Re-Adjustment Woes #3: The Most Annoying Man in Tianjin

I’m not kidding here; I think I’ve actually found the man. If you’ve lived here, you know that “most annoying man” is a highly competitive category in Tianjin, narrowly beating out “worst female ensemble” and “worst driver,” so the person at the top of the heap has to be not only annoying, but remarkably so. They have to manifest behavior so bizarre and intrusive, so counter to civilized society, that only the direct intervention of a merciful God has kept someone from beating them to death with a shovel. One of the first days I was back from Taiwan (Of course. Tianjin had to trot out its reigning champion when I was at my worst.), I went to one of my favorite spots in town: a kind of outdoor park that’s set length-wise under a pair of elevated roads. I was sitting there in the shade enjoying my coffee, when up walks a man in home-made Bermuda shorts and an ancient button-down floral-print shirt (Even the man’s wardrobe was annoying. He looked like Jimmy Buffett on laundry day.), with a large cast-iron weight in the shape of a tea-kettle. It had to weigh at least 70 pounds. He slapped his hands together a few times in preparation, then yanked the weight off the ground (entirely with his back), lifted it once or twice to chest height, and let it drop with an unholy “wham!” that knocked a divot out of the pavement. This he repeated several times until, apparently unsatisfied with the amount of weight he was hoisting, went off and came back with an even HEAVIER weight, which hoisted to shoulder height. He shrugged up and down two or three times, possibly to build up muscles in his shoulder, though I wouldn’t swear to it, then let the weight fall. After about twenty minutes the road had enough holes to qualify for attention from the city.

The next day he came back with. . .wait for it. . .a plastic bag full of chain bullwhips. That’s what I said: chain bullwhips. As in, long chains with a leather grip on one end and a bullwhip thong on the other. He pulled one out, spent a few minutes gyrating purposefully by way of stretching, and began to flog one of the concrete supports, creating a “whack!” that could be heard hundreds of meters away (I know this because I tested it.). In addition, it was clear that he had NO idea what he was doing. I don’t know much about bullwhip technique, but even I knew he was doing it wrong. The weight of the whip was yanking his entire body back and forth violently, with the whip-arm in particular jerking about like a flag in a hurricane. He kept at it, too. No one could do anything but watch him, partly because the noise he was creating made it utterly impossible to focus. (Except for one old man doing Tai-Chi nearby. He kept up his Tai-Chi as though nothing untoward was happening. He’s one of my heroes.) Annoying. Very, very, very annoying. I don’t think it will last long, though. With the way he was throwing his back around with those weights, and ripping his arm out of its socket with his bullwhips, it can’t be more than a matter of weeks before he’s a cripple.

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