On most construction sites, lunch would be a welcome break to rest and refuel. Not for Shi Shenwei.
The 23-year-old laborer spends his midday break swinging from scaffolding poles on a building site, a gymnastics routine that has made him China’s latest social media sensation.
“While other people are eating and singing karaoke, I’m whole-heartedly focused on what I want to do,” Shi told Reuters inside the dusty temple where he works in southern Fujian province.
Shi’s videos, filmed from multiple angles with four smart phones operated by his cousin, are posted on Kuaishou, a mobile video app in China. His nearly 1.2 million followers know him as “Brick Carrier Little Wei.”
“You are no longer a master, you are a god!” one fan wrote after watching a high-bar routine that ended with Shi hanging by his arms in the plank position.
“You are my role model,” gushed another online fan.
After leaving school because of an addiction to online games, Shi joined his uncle’s construction crew. He was a skinny kid and the work was hard.
“I was very feeble back then, too weak to tie up a chicken,” he said, using a Chinese phrase for a weakling.
One day, Shi watched an online video promoting street workouts, a type of free body weight exercise that can be done anywhere. He was hooked.
“I found another self through body-building, a source of energy that came from within,” he said. “Online gaming could never give me that.”
His first video post in 2015, a handstand push up, attracted 7,000 followers.
“I was so excited that I thought I must keep practicing,” he said.
His trademark combination of flips, jumps and gymnastic stands are all self-taught, he said, and mostly imitations of videos he has seen online.
Shi’s bemused co-workers, most of them relatives from his hometown, wonder where he gets the energy during a 10-hour work day.
“Most people would be tired and go home and sleep, but he’s at it every day, around noon or at night after work when everyone else is eating, he’s playing around at the site,” said Shi Dachen, a 52-year-old bricklayer.
His fame has led to appearances on Chinese talent shows, talk of a possible part in a movie and support from gymnasts and exercise enthusiasts across the country.
“He’s a real inspiration for us, and he inspires more and more young people to do what they like, like working out,” said Bi Zhenbo, a Beijing-based personal trainer. “I think he’s doing something very meaningful.”
Shi hopes to open his own gym one day and help young people avoid the problems he faced in his youth.
“They should strive for what they are interested in and should not give up easily,” he said. “This is what I want to convey through my videos, a positive mind that enjoys life.”