Pee soup is off the menu as China makes its English more savoury

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The Independent Online

"Complicated cake", "pee soup", "five sliced things", "dumpling stuffed with the ovary and digestive glands of a crab" and, hopefully, "crap in the grass" are being banished from Beijing's restaurants - as part of a plan to improve English spelling and standardise signs and menus for the 2008 Olympics.

One of the many joys of eating out in China is the linguistic richness of the English menus - the misspelling of carp will always raise a giggle.

But chefs still favour direct translations from Chinese, or rather prosaic descriptions of the food on offer, and there are wonderful examples of garbled English all around the capital. Among this correspondent's favourites is "fuck the certain price of goods" - far more striking than "sale now on," while "children is not recommended" has a certain elegance."Enter the mouth", a mistranslation of the Chinese characters for "entrance" is also common on signposts.

The messages can range from the linguistically marvellous to the plain baffling. The spa in my apartment building promises a "babble bath", while in the Starbucks outlet at the airport you could buy a "fresh fruit howl" instead of a fruit bowl. Property advertisements are particularly prone, such as the skyscraper sold as "a wonder of national cream".

There are good intentions behind trying to put road signs in English as well as Chinese, and generally the road signs are very accurate. However, some safety signs can be truly magnificent: "No blowing of horn. Keep silence!" or "notice the rockslide, please is run about by cliff".

Eager to avoid red faces ahead of the Olympics, the Chinese government has set up a major drive to standardise the use of English in public, called the "Beijing speaks to the world committee," which scours the capital seeking out menus or road signs lost in mistranslation. It has finished translating more than 1,000 dishes and drinks so far. "We welcome public participation and suggestions," the committee told the Beijing Daily.

Some 300 million people are learning English in China, and the standard has improved dramatically in recent years, which means fewer howlers like those listed above. But I will always recall landing in Kunming airport in Yunnan province in the 1990s to see a sign reading: "We welcome our foreign fiends." A mistake, surely.