BETTE Bao Lord, author and wife of a former US ambassador to China, once wrote that to be Chinese is to suffer one of the hardest fates in the world. But expatriates report that while they are envied by many of the Chinese in whose midst they live, the lot of a foreigner living in the Middle Kingdom is not always an easy one. Foreigners say dealing with China's bureaucracy or determining the rules by which they must live are infuriatingly complicated. Other things are infuriatingly simple, such as when signboards state clearly that foreigners must pay a higher price for services. But life has become easier with the advance of economic reforms. Foreigners are less of an oddity, and the strict segregation of locals from expatriates has started to crumble. Intermingling has become common in ways that were unimaginable 15 years ago, when many people dared not even talk to foreigners. However, limits remain. Authorities react most severely where foreign men are romantically involved with local women. As recently as this spring there were reports of police bursting in on couples during the night to arrest the woman for prostitution. The greatest change in the expatriate lifestyle has been an explosion in housing options. Resident foreigners in Beijing used to live in compounds managed by the Government if they were diplomats, or in one of a handful of hotels if they were in business. Now they can choose from quaint courtyard houses, luxury flats or spacious private villas. Although China is still considered a 'hardship posting' by many foreign governments and multinational firms, life has become easier. Options for shopping, schooling, recreation and dining in Beijing, Shanghai and other business centres are comparable to those of cities in developed countries. But on some fronts, expat life in Beijing retains its element of hardship. Apartments and houses for senior expatriate managers routinely rent for US$12,000 (HK$92,760) or more a month. Many less well-heeled foreigners have sought refuge in local housing. But the rules remain murky, as some discovered last week when police raided a local-style apartment complex in search of foreigners, and filmed people who opened their doors.