As the 2008 Olympic Games approach, Beijing is trying to correct signs all around the city that have been badly translated into English.
For example: a theme park dedicated to China's ethnic minorities had been called "Racist Park."
The bad translations are being corrected -- not merely for cosmetic reasons, officials say, but also because they may distract attention from Beijing's cultural treasures and cosmopolitan status.
David Tool, an American who teaches analytical thinking at Beijing Foreign Studies University, recalled attending a Peking Opera performance in 2001 that offered a running digital translation in English.
"They had this line that should have said 'auspicious clouds in the sky' but it read 'auspicious clods,'" Tool recalled. He said a group of foreigners in the audience erupted in laughter, which he found offensive, even though he was also offended by the bad English.
Tool and a prominent retired professor, Chen Lin, are now at the vanguard of Beijing's "English police" enlisted by city officials to retranslate the bad English translations on signs around the city.
Tool, known as Du Dawei among his Chinese friends, said he spent his weekends visiting different businesses as if he were a detective in a linguistic vice squad. "I go in and I say the Olympics are coming and this sign is wrong," Tool said. He then sends an e-mail message with a correct translation or has a printout delivered.
Tool said one prominent sign had become a regular photo option for foreigners: the Dongda Anus Hospital.
Tool intervened. It is now the Dongda Proctology Hospital.
Having lived in China for over 7 years, Tool admits that it is most difficult to translate the menus. "Some translations are trickier, like describing pullet, which is a hen less than a year old but appears on some menus as Sexually Inexperienced Chicken," he said.
Tool said that he was more concerned about wheelchair accessibility in Beijing than about the inappropriate English-language signs.
"I think we are not doing enough preparations for the Paralympic Games," he said.
An investigation conducted by Tool and his students found that more than one third of Beijing's 356 star-rated hotels have no rooms for wheelchair people, while most of the others have only one or two rooms with wheelchair accessibility.
To Tool's gratification, the situation is improving and the government has vowed to make the city all accessible to the handicapped by next summer when the Olympics and Paralympics open.
"If you look, you will see much progress is being made in places like Beihai Park where Tuan Cheng (Round Castle) is now equipped with a wheel chair lift and the Jade Buddha Temple is accessible by a wheelchair ramp," said Tool.
Tool, 64, now could have stayed with his family in Los Angeles where they had a big house, but for the sake of being a "useful old man", he refused to confine himself to his well-off retirement.
He has suggested the government give elderly people more opportunities to volunteer their knowledge, experience and use their spare time for the good of the society.
"The old folks are more important cultural communicators than the young people, because they understand the culture better than the young people," said Tool.
Therefore Tool proposed an "Ask Me" program whereby the old folks in Beijing would be encouraged to learn English and the best of them could be selected to wear a yellow sash that says "Ask Me" and have them stroll around the city and be available to answer the many questions foreign guests will have.
For all his efforts to make Beijing a civilized metropolis and a successful Olympic host, Tool was named top 10 most outstanding volunteers of 2006.
Tool said that he cherish the honor, but he didn't work for it.
"I volunteer just because I want to do a public service. It is my contribution to getting involved and making these the 'People's Olympics'," he said.