Taming the capital tongue

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 September, 2004, 12:00am

Consult Chapter 18 for instructions on how to order Peking duck, stir-fried bean curd in chilli sauce and a couple of shots of fiery maotai

Finding your way in Chinese around Beijing should be no problem with a stylish new phrase book which the government has just launched to deal with the difficulties of Mandarin. Kicking off with a simple ni hao to help the visitor greet locals in the capital, the phrase book soon ups the stakes. Before long even the Mandarin novice can use phrases like 'the sports facilities are very good, everything is exceptionally well organised and the service is great', or 'these Olympic mascots and Chinese knots look very nice'.

The phrase book, called Basic Chinese 100 for Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, should prove useful in a city where foreign languages are not widely spoken, despite government efforts to boost language skills.

The full-colour, illustrated primer was compiled with the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (Bocog) and the committee plans to start distributing the book internationally.

In the textbook, would-be Mandarin speakers follow the fortunes of Mike, an American, as he works his way through Beijing buying Olympic souvenirs, ordering a pizza to his room, getting the bus and buying a suit.

Each chapter includes text in English and in French. Mike is a big fan of the northern capital and the text of the book bears witness to the big ambitions of the Olympic organisers, who are engaged in massive rebuilding of the city.

'Beijing is becoming more and more beautiful,' he says in the section called 'Commenting on the Beijing Olympics'. 'Both the stadiums and the gymnasium facilities are very good, and everything was extremely well organised,' he says.

Mike reckons the service was very good too - a sign that big improvements are in store. 'Everyone felt quite satisfied,' says Mike.

Poor Mike even gets a cold in chapter 20, but is given a dose of Chinese herbal medicine to chase away the sniffles.

And there is a useful section on the Beijing weather, which, tellingly, contains no translation for the word 'pollution', reflecting the level of confidence the government has that its multi-billion yuan environmental clean-up will work.

The government has promised an environmentally clean and green city when the Games roll into town. 'The government has done a lot of work these past few years. The sky is bluer, the water is clearer and Beijing is becoming more and more beautiful,' says the goateed Mike, who generally wears a grey suit.

The book also contains expressions of congratulation for people on their country's winning performance in individual events - ones in which China does especially well, it must be added. The strong production values behind the book are evidence of just how seriously Beijing takes its organising of the Games.

In the past few years, the Government has tried to teach taxi drivers and police some rudimentary English in preparation for the influx of foreign visitors, with varying degrees of success.

And it is worth bearing with the primer, which includes the right lingo for that most Chinese of celebrations - the banquet.

Anyone seeking beer, Peking Duck, stir-fried bean-curd in chilli sauce and even the fiery liquor known as maotai, need look no further than chapter 18, which contains the key phrase: 'Let's drink to the success of the Olympic Games! Cheers!'