Daily Travel Flashback: Beijing, China

31/05/2011
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New York-based writer and photographer Jennifer Pinkowski’s photo takes us to Beijing, where she went in 2007, and to the ancient neighborhoods first established under Kublai Khan. The color of the pinwheels contrasts with the subject matter – these are public bathrooms, whose smell Jennifer hasn’t forgotten.

Public Toilet in Beijing Hutongs

The multi-hued whimsy of the pinwheels contrasts with the monochromatic nature of a Beijing public bathroom. Photo: Jennifer Pinkowski

“Being from New York City, where public bathrooms are few, my first naive thought was that the high number of them in the hutongs-labyrinthine, largely poor neighborhoods dating back to the 13th century when Kublai Khan established a capital here-indicated responsible urban planning in a densely populated city. Not so much. Few homes in the hutongs have running water, so public bathrooms serve as household bathrooms. They are mostly so befouled that it’s hard to breathe; it took me two weeks to actually brave one, and after the experience I slathered myself with more hand sanitizer than can possibly be healthy. Yet the cheery, beautifully lit pinwheels and her dignified posture hint at none of that. To me it depicts a deep paradox of modern China-beauty and ugliness existing in the same space. (Not that China has cornered the market on that.) I don’t know if this building still stands. Vast swaths of hutongs have been bulldozed to make way for high rises.”                                                             By JOHN GIUFFO