In a matter of days, hundreds of thousands of visitors from more than 100 countries will flood into China's capital, where non-Chinese faces are still a rarity in some neighbourhoods.
The Beijing Olympics will be the largest gathering of foreigners in China in recent history -- the biggest foreign influx since the Mongol invasion -- and a social experiment of sorts for a country that is overwhelmingly monochromatic.
More than 90 per cent of the population is Han Chinese, and many of the minorities do not have radically different features.
"It will be a cultural exchange. Foreigners will experience China, and Chinese people will learn more about foreign cultures," Liu Yiyuan, a 60-year-old silver-haired cobbler, said with a toothless smile.
Chinese reactions vary to tourists and the more than 1.1 million foreigners who now live in Beijing, a city of 17 million people. Some are indifferent, others are cautious or just plain curious.
"Hello!" is sometimes shouted in English in the direction of a passing foreigner. Blonde hair or dark skin can draw crowds in Tiananmen Square, which is almost always packed with visitors from overseas and other parts of China. Foreigners are occasionally asked to pose for a photo, sometimes with a Chinese child.
"I definitely notice people looking at me. I never take it in a bad way," said Ryan Horne, a whip-thin, raspy-voiced black Los Angeles native who manages a bar in Beijing's raucous Sanlitun bar district. "A lot of things that go on in China in regards to race relations people automatically are quick to construe as racist.