Strolling along Beijing's Chang'an Avenue in May, Kevin Born was drawn to an ancient Chinese-style building with delicate wooden carvings and wash paintings -- only to find it was a public toilet.
Inside, he found a granite floor, remote-sensor flushing, automatic hand drier and piped music. He found it difficult to believe that only three years ago when he first came to China, answering nature's call was an experience not for the faint-hearted.
"You had to take a deep breath and dash into the toilet. You held your breath and your head high, and never looked down. Then you'd dash out quickly for another gasp of fresh air. All within 30 seconds," recalls Kevin, 30, an engineer from Germany.
The city launched a three-year campaign -- with a 400-million-yuan (57 million U.S. dollars) investment -- to modernize its public toilets in 2005 as part of its effort to prepare for the 2008 Olympic Games.
With 1,000 new public toilets being built and renovated each year, the fetid back-street privies are being replaced with clean, well-maintained flush toilets.
Now, Beijing is flushed with pride that all the 5,333 public toilets, boasting standardized white male and female figure signs, are available within a five-minute walk of any downtown location.
In addition, there will be 700 toilets in Olympic venues by the time the Beijing Games start and an additional 800 nearby.
Meanwhile, toilets in restaurants, bars and shopping malls are required by the government to be maintained properly, not only for the sake of their business, but also to show a more civilized Beijing.