The Junk in Bean-Sauce Alley

This past December I went back to Beijing for the first time in more than four years, and among other adventures went to look at my former apartment building, Douban Hutong (豆瓣胡同 or “Bean-Sauce Alley”). The trip was great because it let me see things with fresh eyes that I had started taking for granted by the end of my four-and-so years living in Beijing, and good ‘ole Douban was no exception. I found myself thinking: “What a crazy-looking monstrosity! Why is this building PURPLE? Oh my god, have they painted half of it PINK now? Why is it PINK?”

So big. So concrete. So bean-saucey.

The formerly purple, now pink and purple, Douban Hutong 豆瓣胡同 or Bean-Sauce Alley.

I took the elevator up to my old floor, and noted that there were now a lot more ads stamped all over the walls, but that the old upside-down “luck” character (福) was still pasted to my front door.

Ads in Douban Hutong

Ads stamped on the wall, and the remains of an upside-down 副 for luck.

Then, for lack of anything else to do, I stepped into the stairwell, and found myself taking the stairs down, just for fun. Going down, I noted that, as usual, each landing was crowded with broken furniture and plants and old mattresses and other junk that various households apparently couldn’t let go, but also couldn’t fit into their apartments. (Side note most of the apartments in Douban are two-bedrooms, usually with a married couple in the larger bedroom and a child in the smaller one.) With my fresh eyes, this struck me as interesting for the first time. In a typical American town, it was the equivalent of getting to see into everyone’s garages or basements. And, having also skulked around a few buildings in Manhattan Chinatown, I was amused at how similar the two settings felt. So, once I reached the first floor, I turned around on a whim, took the elevator back up to the top floor, and photographed each landing. Herewith, for no reason, is a photo series entitled, “Junk Being Stored on Every Floor of Building 2, Entryway 1 of Bean-Sauce Alley”:

Floor 20

Floor 19.5


Floor 19

Floor 18.5


Floor 18

Floor 17.5


Here I had to pause to remove the “rock” in my shoe that had been bothering me for the past hour, which turned out to be a three-inch piece of metal.

Floor 17

Floor 16.5

Floor 16

Floor 15.5

Floor 15

Floor 14.5

Everything and the kitchen sink.

Floor 14

Floor 13.5

Floor 13

I, too, have a moldering pile of original boxes for all those store warranties I might someday claim.

Floor 12.5

Floor 12

Gets good light.

Floor 11.5

Another kitchen sink.

Floor 11

Floor 10.5

Floor 10

Floor 9.5

Floor 9

Floor 9 + duck

Bonus: floor 9 was drying a duck in the elevator bank.

Floor 8.5

Floor 8

Floor 7.5

Floor 7

Floor 6.5

Yes, the light gets bad on the lower floors. I don’t know why I didn’t think to use flash.

Floor 6

Floor 5.5

Floor 5

Floor 4.5

Floor 4

Floor 3.5

Floor 3

Floor 2.5

This stairwell sure could use some lights.

Floor 2

Floor 1.5


And here we are back on floor 1. Goodbye!



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