The Absurd English of Abroad

So today I was rummaging through my dropbox, and I cam across two scenes of a ‘play’ I wrote when I must have been at my wit’s ends after grading English assignments back when I worked for Teach for China in rural Yunnan, because it’s prefaced by the following examples from my student’s homework:

Is this your soccer?

Jim plays tennis bat.

I like coccball.

He has healthy tennis balls.

Jim plays pear.

He has dinner oranges.

She eats hamburgers well.

That girl is my soccer.

Tom was out of bread, so he had to get a new job.

I lost my key, so I was delicious.

I hate my life, I’ll stay here forever

Potatoes can make people fat. But they are good for health.

Potatoes is the king of all vegetables and fruits.

Now potatoes become the delicious food.

And now on to what madness this prompted (some days I really do miss my Chinglish…)

Anna in the Orchard

A story that starts out quite standard high-school Chekhov play, and then bounds into the absurd with help of our English-supplementary books and my student’s homework answers

Scene I: Anna, a fair maiden from 19th century Russia is meandering in a cherry orchard wearing pink chiffon.

Anna: My, what a sunny day. But for those black clouds on the horizon. Papa used to say that it rained when someone died, the skies weeping for them. But I like to think of it as fertilizing the earth to nourish new life.

Peter (walking in from the side, does not see Anna): Days like this I start to dream. Meandering, listless, idle days. (With vengence) Worthless days!

Anna (espies Peter): Peter! I mean, I hadn’t… Mr. Boschovik…

Peter: An – Ms. Mikalova, what a….

They fall into each others arms and embrace

Footsteps – earth-trembling, thundering footsteps heard in the distance. Crunching and cracking of trees. Anna and Peter don’t notice, snuggling in each others arms.

A giant waw sweeps aside a cherry bough near them and big furry face stares down

Anna (trembling, with obvious fright): A – Ahhhh

Peter (soothing): What? What my live? What, my frightened rabbit, my sweet?

Anna cannot answer

Knola Bear (timid, meek): meep. Emits a tiny hiccup and immediately looks embarrassed.

Anna (shakes in shock): Wha-what? Peter!

Peter finally turns around

Peter (calmly): Oh, it’s only escaped from the zoo.

Anna: The… zoo?

Peter: The Zoo of Unfortunate Inventions and Unlikely English. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you.

Anna huddles behind Peter, turning him into a shield

Knola Bear: meep? Peers at them with soft, curious eyes. Reaches out with one hand to Anna’s long, golden curly locks and picks up a strand in a three-inch claw. Hrmmm? Sniffs at the strands. Anna faints. The Knola bear advances and looks over her, baffled.

Scene II

Anna is laying limp with her head in Peter’s lap. He is fanning her with the lace fan he retrieved from her pocket. The Knola bear is looking over her, concerned.

Knola bear singing: “For breakfast eat hamburgers. I like broccoli. I like eat apple. I don’t like eat pear. I breakfast like eat breakfast.”

Peter annoyed: Stop that! Can’t you see you’re aggravating the situation?!

Knola bear red with shame, stammering: I..I was only trying to h-help. “It’s a good job to teach animals to do some work.”, that’s what the oracle says.

Peter: The oracle?

Knola Bear: There are all sorts of oracles that live in portals found in this garden. My Oracle is the Oracle of All Sorts of Animals. She resides in the land of Fishburger and Mutton Fries. You see her too by stepping through the elephant’s foot.

Peter crossly: Well, I don’t think that’s going to help. You’ve completely ruined my romantic afternoon with Anna. I was going to sweep her into an unbelievable, everlasting kiss and then convince her to elope against the wish of her parents and to the everlasting – but envious – disapproval of this town.

Knoala Bear: Now that’s impractical. Everyone knows you can’t act against the wish of the masses unless you have the blessings of Glenda, witch of the west. It’s bound to fail.

Suddenly the Knoala bear realizes he has spoken far too much and should recover his characteristic dumb and fumbling image.

Peter still holding Anna while looking wistfully at the sky: The Witch of the West, you say…

By this time the Knola bear has shuffled back into the forest. Peter looks around, dropping Anna to the ground.

Peter: Hey! Hey! Where did you go? Hey! What do I say to her? What can she do? What do I have to bring her? He swings from side to side

Anna waking, with grumbles: Wha…what was that noise? Peter, what are you looking for?

Peter: We must leave immediately! We must find the Witch of the West! Come on!

Anna: What witch of the west? Peter, I think I saw some frightful creature and it was, was it, talking to you. She rubs her eyes and sits up. Several twigs are still stuck to her skirt and in her hair. Oh, I must have had a terrible fall.

Peter anxious: Oh, just, I mean, your aunt Mathilde, that old witch – of the good sort of course. Not a real witch, just that she’ll mix a few potions – open her medicine cabinet, I mean. To fix your headache of course. You were just complaining about it dreadfully.

Anna: I was?

Peter: Yes, a dreadful fast onslaught. Come. He gives her his arm. I’ll take you. You must be awfully dizzy. No need for running off on your own. Who knows where you’ll end up. He gives a nervous laugh and then fumbles for cigarettes in his pocket.

Anna: Peter! You smoke! She draws her arm away with disgust slashed across her delicate face.

Peter: No. No I don’t at all. These are just my Uncle Chekov’s. He asked me to hold them for him. In fact, this shirt is borrowed from him. He borrowed it from me, I mean. And the cigarettes were still in the pocket when he gave it back. No, not at all. He sniffs his nose in disgust at the suggestion. No, I’m just looking for the … map I stuck in my pocket earlier. Darn, it doesn’t seem to be there. He must have switched it out for his cigarettes.

Anna sighing: Oh, I’m so glad. It’s such a filthy habit, you know. She leans dreamily against his arm.


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