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5 posts categorized "Courtney Ott"

Courtney's View #5: Thoughts at the Grocery Store

The message written in the harshly lit isles of the hygienic section is that to be beautiful is to be white. Brands like Snail White, White Allure, and BeauOxi White have the shelves loaded with intravenous whitening injectables, whitening pills, whitening creams and body washes. All this paired with images of super pale and laughing "Thai" people. Attempting to manifest this message, many employees at the store have layered their faces with white make-up. They look like specters of themselves. I feel like a jerk. I’m part of the genus responsible for exporting this ideal.

Call me a genius, but I suspect that it is because of this ideal that I am treated like a celebrity in Thailand. Though I've done nothing to deserve it, countless people run up from behind to snap selfies with me. I am told I’m beautiful by more random people than feels normal. Why can't they just call me weird looking? At school, the administration delightedly carts me around like an exotic pet. Under the command of, "It is uurrrgent that you come," I am required to be at notable events so that I can be in the pictures. The events with the important people holding gold plaques for the important thing that they have achieved which I still don’t know what it is (can’t speak Thai yet). There’s just something about me that makes their achievement look more special to the world. 

I traverse these white washed isles with my critical eye, delving too deep into the social injustices that these smug sunscreens are championing. I maintain a rolling boil as I both reflect on and represent this ghastly form of globalization. I sourly shuffle, surly and shame faced to the check out with my armful of toilet paper. 

But outside, I can't escape the curse of the White Allure. Dear reader, please walk with me. Come with me through the sliding doors and wait while I find my moped. If you look up and right, you will see a house sized bill-board with a young girl on it, lips slightly parted in a sexy sigh. She is white, clearly Caucasian, and there are little arrows tracing the smooth, youthful contours of her face, like the ones you see on the weather channel to indicate wind patterns. This teenager is telling you and all the Thais down on the street, selling sausage kebabs for a living, to get some botox and white injected into their faces to look right.

If you were with me as I walk through the night market searching for dinner, I’d tell you that I have a suspicious and dreadful feeling. What if my appearance is planting this seed of desired whiteness deeper into the local’s minds? When they take selfies with me, I know it is because of my whiteness and green eyes. Again, it’d be better if they thought I looked funny, but they singularly call me beautiful. Do they really want to look like me? What if I am fueling feelings of lack in my students? It is a scary feeling, but I think that it is not far off.

What do I do? A few simple things I think...When my girls at school tell me I’m beautiful, I always make sure to tell them that they are, too. They ask me a lot if I like Thailand, and I always make sure that I pause to tell them all the things I like about it. Everyone is better for it when they decide to be themselves.

...Also, from hereon out, I will stick to the street markets, keeping my gaze below the billboards. 

Courtney's View #4: Assume Change

Teaching’s almost over really. The time was flying by anyway, but things kicked into warp drive when I found out that though my contract ends in March, the last day of school is February 9th. What cultural thing is this? I don’t know. But I get paid for a month a half of navel gazing. Much wow! 

This news aside, I’ve taken into account Unexpected Days Off as a highly possible bi-weekly or even weekly occurrence. The reasons are usually both creative and official. For your vivid understanding, I have curated these reasons into a list:

  • “There is a competition that you must watch this morning. You will have no class.”
  • “There is a holiday on Tuesday. And on Monday.”
  • “There is a festival in the afternoon. Maybe there will be no class.”
  • “It is sports week. There is no class.”
  • “The students are playing football. Maybe they will not come today.”
  • “The students have a test. Maybe they will not come today.”
  • “The English Department has decided that today they will not work.”

Truly, this type of surprise is perfect for a rookie teacher like me. The extra time to plan lessons or write my family a letter is welcome. Any chance to slow down is usually one to be grateful for.

There’s another side of the burger, too. The unpredictability of schedule can also mean that my day becomes one extra wild goose chase. It’s easy to feel jerked around but it’s important to understand that’s not the intention. Of course, there's a language barrier among other uncertainties that get in the way of communication. I’m relearning that even though I like to be in control of my day, sometimes that’s simply not the point. “Mai pen rai” is how they call it in Thailand. “Don’t worry, whatever will be, will be.” 

Below: Some well spent free time of preparing a Christmas succulent! 

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Courtney's View #3: Make a Curious Leap

I realized I was going to travel when, during an early morning shift at the coffee shop, my friend flung out a wildly broad question, “What are you going to do now?”

As a playful act of improvisation, I replied, “I’m going to walk amongst the fjords of Norway, then the mushy green hills of Ireland and then I will purvey the glitz and poshness of London….uhhhh then I’m going to work on a farm or teach English or something.”

“Cool!”, my friend said.

“Yeah…yeah, that’s what I’ll do!”

My decision to teach English abroad was fueled by great personal stagnancy. Basically, I knew that I had to do something, anything to stir things up. I wanted to practice self-confidence, recognize my potential and feel excited about life. So, I made a Classic Big Leap.

First, I signed up for my dream trail race in Norway without a plan or a plane ticket.

Then I was like, “Man, I really need a plan.”

Then my best friend Brant was like, “Here, read this book called Vagabonding by Rolf Potts.”

So I read that and was like, “Wow, I can travel sustainably! You wanna come with me?”

Best friend Brant said, “Uh…..(few days pass)….Sure!!”

Then I became We. We decided that to achieve the wholesome travel experience we wanted, we had to find a job abroad. Enter CIEE. We applied, sold a bunch of stuff, quit our jobs, and left the U.S.A.

I am coming to think that when a person feels severely stagnant in their life, any Curious Leap will benefit them. Though my Classic Big Leap story isn’t over, I’m thinking that coming to Thailand to teach English was a really effective decision. I am alive with purpose. I am gaining a real skill. When I go to the classroom, I step into a self-confidence I never had before. 40 pairs of staring eyes will encourage this if only as the most direct route to self preservation.

If you are looking for inspiration, the ideas of the people below have truly helped me to find freshness and courage. Check it out.

Hunter S. Thompson's Letter to a Friend

Time=Wealth - Rolf Potts or if you have more time: Tim Ferriss Show with Rolf Potts

The Minimalists

Below: At Tromso Skyrace in Norway. Brant and I wowed to be in London. Experiencing the best coffee of my life from a hill tribe in Chiang Mai.

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Courtney's View #2: Pinned & Squirming

The wonderful hotel I’m staying at while I get my Non B Visa provides free breakfast. It’s not your average continental breakfast of Ho-hos and Ding Dongs. There’s a big pan of fried rice, plates of papaya and dragon fruit, pancakes, eggs, cucumbers, shredded carrots, and small sausages. There’s even a coffee maker that spits out Americanos which I return to in a sneaky tip-toe three or four times a morning. I go noticed 100% of the time.

The employees are very kind and helpful. One might say that they are unwavering and ever present in these respects. They are instantly available to get you a plate and gesture at the buffet. They are the quiet, smiling sentinels of breakfast.

My wallflowerishness sadly makes me unappreciative of this immaculate watchfulness. To me it just equals intentional, paid staring. As I approach the buffet, I feel a cruel combination of skittishness and hunger. I try to move along the buffet in a way that conceals the quantities of food I’m taking. I’m not sure what is acceptable and I don’t want to be disgustedly judged. The water glasses are rather small and I’m thirsty so I loiter by the drinks and down three waters in a row. The concierge stands steady, watching. A bug manages to fly into my fourth glass. The concierge stares. I want to fish out the bug but he’s watching. I don’t want to look even more slobbish. I drink the bug with a twitchy swallow.

Hastily, I walk to my table with a plate of pancakes and a bowl of fruit. Blast, I forgot to put syrup on my pancakes. I dread returning to the surveilled buffet to get the syrup. Surely, I will look like a fool. I will have to wait at least 15 minutes to avoid this, hopefully enough time for the concierge to have forgotten my stumbling performance. Wait I do. With my perceived clean slate, I assume a casual air as my curiously still-existing pancakes accompany me back to their mecca. The concierge raises his eyebrows. I slouch a little and spoon my syrup. He must have thought I took my pancakes for a walk to gently break the news that they’d be eaten and inquire about their last wishes. Oh you’d like Syrup to accompany you to the Grey Havens? As you wish. 

When I return to my room, I flop face down on to the cloud-like bed in a despondent heap, run through by the force of a thousand imagined judgements.                                                                                                             

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.... P.S. If you want to avoid major Visa stress, do as CIEE recommends and don't travel before the teaching program starts! I was stuck in Vientiane, Laos for almost 3 weeks and came out of it with a big fat "VOID WITHOUT PREDJUDICE" stamp in my passport and no Visa. I had to travel back to Laos to try again and was thankfully successful! If you do travel beforehand, Savannakhet, Laos is the absolute best place to get your Non B Visa. There was a total of 20 people getting processed on the day I went, as opposed to nearly 1000 in Vientiane. That being said, I loved traveling beforehand and would do it again - I just underestimated the Visa scene!

Below: A picture of me over-thinking stuff and knowing it. 

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Courtney's View #1: The Big Fat Reality Check

Until I came to Thailand, I was living in a hip-college-mountain-town in Colorado. The town is full of Trustafarians who wear those ruggish, biblical ponchos that are meant to signify enlightenment. Perhaps my college can owe it's 1988 accusation by USA Today of being "the worst dressed" town in America to these types. My town is full of world class mountain runners, kayakers, mountain bikers, and skiers. There are many organic food stores and much environmental awareness. People wear lots of Patagonia and rock that classy sandal-sock combination with $100 Chacos, the finest and most durable of sandals. What I'm trying to say is that my town houses a distinctly earthy yet privileged population and I am very aware of this. 

I’ve been in Thailand for 4 months now. As for any Westerner, there many new things both shocking and delightful I've gotten to get accquainted with:

-a high power distance culture

-seeing an average of 3 helmet-less 2 year olds per sputtering moped

-a general lack of catalytic converters on vehicles

-a pacifist yet intensely opportunist driving culture that is very fascinating

-the delights of spicy food

-multitudes of garbage fires containing burning plastic

-legions of street dogs and cats

-groups of orange robed monks walking the streets for alms every morning

Coming from my super PC and health obsessed town, all of these things elicit a confusing array of responses like, "Wow! What's that? What's this? WOW! Yum! Oh no! huh? Eeek! Uggh. Ooo shiny! Oh dear. Tasty! But how? quick-hold-yer-breath!"

For me, there is a lot of learning to be done. I have diva-ishly sought out "staples" like nutritional yeast, organic shampoo, real coffee (as opposed to instant), single track running trails, and mexican food. With a little effort, some of these things can be found, but I am forced to shrug my shoulders for many others. My apartment has no sinks, just faucets sticking rustily out of the wall. It appears that my water source is a big cement tank that I have seen some questionable items floating in. My backyard features a wonderful sewage ditch that wafts fragrantly through my apartment. I call it the "spicy Thai breeze". Enter water filters, bleach, candles, and a super-chill mind. This lack of many things I consider "staples" of my life has been a big fat reality check that makes me wonder if I have "Privileged" written 100 times on my face.

What I'm learning is that travel is probably the best teacher of open mindedness. I have always considered myself to be broad minded but that's an easy label to give myself when I'm back at home comfortably sipping on a green juice and watching a peloton of $10,000 bikes whiz by before comfortably walking to my comfortable job where I comfortably communicate AND relate to nearly every person I encounter. Discomfort is what tests me. Travel often gives the gift of wider contemplation through the deprivation of comforts I take for granted. 

My goal for my stay in Thailand is to not only be grateful for the comforts I've previously had, but to truly take joy in what Thailand has to offer. This might be genuinely looking forward to a cup of instant coffee, really getting to know my students and fellow teachers, and reforming to the simplicity of no furniture and living from the contents of a carry-on size bag. 

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Below: Taking time to serenade our favorite street kitty Jacqueen.

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Below: Moped specimen.

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