Days are past when foreigners are looked upon as creatures from outer space. China had been open to international tourism and business for over ten years now, and millions have visited this country, including many backpackers. Accompanying this, unfortunately, was the loss of much innocence. For many, foreigners are perceived as rich fellows to be exploited and like many places round the world, are asked to pay for goods and services at much higher prices. A comfort, however, is the gradual raise of income levels and self-confidence of the Chinese people. The further integration of China into the global economy has also led to the equalisation of prices for certain services, e.g., rail and air transport prices for foreigners and Chinese citizens are being narrowed in the past year. For foreigners of Chinese descent, higher standard of living means that Chinese citizens can now afford to dress well. Ten years ago, during my first trip, any foreign Chinese can be easily identified on the streets, which were full of people wearing the classic mao suit or communist mass produced clothing. Now, itís virtually impossible to distinguished between the foreigner and the local. On many occasions, people actually thought that I am a fellow Chinese citizen from another province.
The "normalisation" of China has also led to the revival of old vices. One is the oldest profession - prostitution. Foreigners frequently receive calls at their hotels from girls who ask whether one is lonely, or one wishes to have "a chat". In addition are the mushrooming of numerous massage parlours, "health clubs", etc. During my short stay in China, I have received such "invitations" at almost every city I stayed. But beware - despite all the apparent openness, prostitution is illegal in China. Once in a while, raids are held and foreigners are routinely arrested to show all that the state meant business. Foreigners arrested are sent for a short stint in a re-education camp, and have their passports stamped "piao ji" or "those-who-patronise-brothels". In addition, there are tales of some who had brought girls to their room, and were rudely interrupted by men claiming to be the police or the girlsí husband/boyfriend/father/brother, and were only let off after paying a huge "fee" or "compensation". So, for the adventurous, think of the risks before you proceed...