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Lao Akha women from Muang Sing in north-western Laos cross the border into China on a daily basis to sell non-timber forest products at local markets and buy consumption goods to take back home. This picture, taken at the main market in Meng Man, a Chinese town near the international border with Laos, features the contradiction between state legal discourse and actual social practices. The sign in Chinese says: “conduct your business in a ‘civilised’ way and treat your customers politely”. Despite the smiling face of the woman, this is not the treatment that she usually receives in her transactions with wealthier customers and traders in China. Akha from Laos are, in fact, still discriminated as ‘savage’, ‘poor’ and ‘undisciplined’ and therefore considered by both Han and Dai people in China as not deserving respect or a ‘civilised’ treatment in business.