The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic GamesAugust 8-24 2008
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Feature: U.S. veteran polishes Beijing's signboards ahead of Games

Updated: 2008-08-01 From: Xinhuanet

BEIJING, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- "'Volunteer'? No, should've been 'Information'," yelled the gray-haired man in an Olympic volunteer's T-shirt, his hands waving in the air.

David Tool stared at the big, red sign on the information kiosk close to the famous Sanlitun bar street in eastern Beijing, and shook his head.

"You can't imagine how quickly they respond to me these days. Last time I went to Sanlitun 3.3 shopping mall with some TV staff and found some bad translations on the signboards of two stores. I pointed them out to the storekeepers and then went downstairs for the cameraman. When we came back in 15 minutes, one of the faulty signboards was taken down and the other was already corrected," Tool said with a childlike smile. "Fifteen minutes, can you imagine it?"

The retired colonel of the U.S. Army currently teaches at Beijing International Studies University, but is better known for hunting bad translations on signboards across the city.

The strenuous and unpaid job seated him in Beijing's Top 10 Volunteers of 2006, the first foreigner ever to get the award.

Tool was among the campaigners who talked Beijing authorities into overhauling awkward English signboards such as "don't drive tiredly" and bizarre names of Chinese dishes such as "chicken without sex life" in the run-up to the Olympics.

The 66-year-old has named himself Du Dawei, a transliteration of David Tool, but the locals call him "Old Du".

"I like working with people," he said. "It's full of fun and makes me happy and healthy."

That can explain why he had chosen to become a city volunteer atone of more than 500 information kiosks on Beijing's streets before and during the Games.

Volunteers at the kiosks should provide people with the information they need, said Tool. "I suggest all the volunteers should wear a sticker that reads 'ask me'."

The kiosk is always packed with Tool's old friends and new companions, with whom he has to compete for a place.

Even Tool's wife will join the competition. "She'll be arriving in Beijing on Aug. 6 or 7, on the eve of the Games opening."

With her proficiency in English, Spanish and French, Tool said his wife could be a better volunteer.

Besides the volunteer work, his wife will also try to find out what's so appealing in China that has kept him for more than six years.

Tool takes China as his second homeland, speaking fluent mandarin and even learning Chinese calligraphy. He shared the locals' sentiments and frowned every time he opened the window to see the sky overcast with mist.

"I've been here long enough to know it's fog, not pollution," he said. "But what about those first-time visitors? I feel it's a loss of face."

Losing face to the foreign media is something Tool considers "intolerable". Some reporters accused him of "lacking a sense of humor" in removing one of the funniest parts of Beijing.

"'You've ruined our fun,' they said. Ridiculous! They are just trying to make fun of China," said Tool, who said he cherishes a own sense of humor like all other Americans.

He shrugged off some Western media's criticism of Beijing's volunteer team as "ridiculous". "Beijing has the biggest team of volunteers ever in Olympic history -- even pensioners are working as volunteers patrolling communities for security considerations."

These people are doing a great job pacing the streets and giving help to those in need. "The only problem is many of them do not speak English."

But when it comes to English, Tool feels it's his mission: to bridge the cultural difference between China and the rest of the world. "The Beijing Games are a grand occasion. I, too, want to share the excitement."

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