In this file photo, Tao Xiangli prepares his homemade submarine before operating it in a lake on the outskirts of Beijing September 3, 2009. [Agencies]
It is difficult for Tao to find answers when asked where he gets his inventive spirit. Partly, he wanted to be different by separating himself from a Chinese education system that emphasizes rote memorization over innovation and individuality.
He says he wanted to display his talent by creating things rather than listing accomplishments on a resume.
Zhu, the landlord who has leased the room to Tao for three years, said the biggest difference between Tao and others was "he did not learn the hollow principles from books, but has his feet on the ground".
He started creating things - toy guns and other objects out of wood and mud - at the age of 11 or 12.
It was in 2005 that Tao began creating contraptions with sophistication greater than the toys he built as a child.
He was working in construction at the time when he started sketching ideas on paper for new machines to help him do his job, then building them, taking them apart again and building something else.
With each new apparatus, Tao took his drawings and building instructions to the government's intellectual property office to register for patents. In a drawer next to his bed, Tao stores around 20 folders containing his "Certificate of Utility Model Patent" documents for his inventions.
Despite everything - the patents, the submarine and its journey to the Expo, the media attention - Tao's future remains unclear.
He says a few factories want to hire him to help build manufacturing machines. He has declined the offers, citing fears that his creativity would be constrained, the working conditions might be poor and that he, ultimately, would be unhappy.
Some even wanted him to invent a substance that could bond sand to glass. He did. From underneath his bed, Tao pulls out a plate of glass with globs of yellow, brown and red sand stuck to it.
"It's not glue," he says, declining to disclose the ingredients of the substance. He hopes the company would buy it from him.
Tao is also looking for investors - someone who has a "long-term view" and appreciates his creativity.
"I want to continue doing things freely and independently," he says. "It's what I like doing."