Olympic Zealots Exhibit Themselves In Bizarre Ways

Liu Ming from central Henan province permanently tattooed his face for the Beijing Olympics. i i

Liu Ming, from central Henan province, says that his children and grandchildren are sure to remember the Beijing Olympics with these tattoos permanently on his face and body. Xiao Kaijing for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Xiao Kaijing for NPR
Liu Ming from central Henan province permanently tattooed his face for the Beijing Olympics.

Liu Ming, from central Henan province, says that his children and grandchildren are sure to remember the Beijing Olympics with these tattoos permanently on his face and body.

Xiao Kaijing for NPR
Liu Ming etched pictures of the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square on his face and body. i i

Liu Ming etched pictures of the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square on his face and body. In case China holds some other historic event, he's got a little space left for tattoos on his kneecaps. Xiao Kaijing for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Xiao Kaijing for NPR
Liu Ming etched pictures of the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square on his face and body.

Liu Ming etched pictures of the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square on his face and body. In case China holds some other historic event, he's got a little space left for tattoos on his kneecaps.

Xiao Kaijing for NPR
Wei Shengchu has more than 200 national Chinese flags flying from pins stuck in his head. i i

Outside China's National Stadium, acupuncturist Wei Shengchu shows off the more than 200 national flags flying from pins stuck in his head. He says he has applied to the Guinness book of world records. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Anthony Kuhn/NPR
Wei Shengchu has more than 200 national Chinese flags flying from pins stuck in his head.

Outside China's National Stadium, acupuncturist Wei Shengchu shows off the more than 200 national flags flying from pins stuck in his head. He says he has applied to the Guinness book of world records.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR
Sun Yongding rode his tricycle through 45 cities to get to Beijing and has kept his Olympic haircut. i i

Sun Yongding rode his tricycle through 45 cities to get to Beijing and has kept his "Olympic haircut" since the city won the hosting bid in 2001. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Anthony Kuhn/NPR
Sun Yongding rode his tricycle through 45 cities to get to Beijing and has kept his Olympic haircut.

Sun Yongding rode his tricycle through 45 cities to get to Beijing and has kept his "Olympic haircut" since the city won the hosting bid in 2001.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR

At the Beijing Olympics, there has been the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But the games also have inspired a small handful of Chinese, who aren't part of the Chinese government's official game plan, to perform bizarre feats.

One such person is acupuncturist Wei Shengchu, 58, who attracts crowds on the Olympic green. Maybe people congregate around him because of his Elton John-style rhinestone glasses, or his greasy curls, like 1980s vintage Michael Jackson.

Or maybe it's the 205 needles stuck in his head, each one with a tiny national flag on it, like a sadomasochistic version of the United Nations.

"I'm a beautician," says Wei. "Putting these needles in your head makes your hair blacker. It can turn white hair black. It can stop it from falling out. It improves the hair's quality."

But Wei's not just doing it for looks. He's going for the gold, too.

"The Olympics are like an invisible force," he says. "They've drawn me here to the games. On July 31, I stuck 2008 needles in my head. I've done it five times altogether. I've applied to the Guinness book of world records."

Most of these Olympic zealots offer similar explanations for what they're doing.

The Beijing Olympics, they say, are a once-in-a-lifetime-event that fill them with pride and a burning desire to participate, to express and exhibit themselves.

Across town, Liu Ming is hanging out at the shop where he got his Olympic tattoos.

He's got the characters for Beijing tattooed around his nose and mouth, "Beijing 2008" on his forehead, and the five Olympic mascots around his neck. Liu describes himself as a businessman. He says the Beijing Olympics are too important to be viewed calmly and coolly.

"Not only will I remember this event for the rest of my life," he says, "but so will my son and grandson, because I can't change my face now. It's not like other people who paint it on and then wipe it off after the Olympics."

Tattoos of the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square adorn his face and body. In case China holds some other historic event, he's got a little space left for tattoos on his kneecaps.

Down the street from the National Stadium, Sun Dingguo does a little rap on the sidewalk. His hair is sculpted into five colored rings.

Last year, Sun left his home near Shanghai and pedaled through 45 cities in 11 months, sleeping in his tricycle rickshaw and living off the generosity of strangers.

"People from all over the nation supported me," Sun says. "They contributed money, blankets, water, fruit, painkillers and cold medicine. I was very moved."

Sun's pilgrimage ended at the fence outside the Olympic green. He has no money for tickets.

"I can't say it's all been fun," Sun says. "I've endured colds and toothaches. I've been interviewed countless times, but nobody knows the suffering I've been through."

Sun sets off down the street with some fellow pilgrims.

But first he makes a promise: "See you in London in 2012," he says.

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