Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Food of the Day

Blogging from work still carries a very guerilla feel- I'll keep this short, but there are sometimes things that happen that I need to let people know about.

Friday night, in the midst of some aimless wandering in Kusatsu (the small town next door to Ritto), I came across what appeared, for all intents and purposes, to be a Steak and Shake in the middle of rural Japan. It was a small shop sandwiched between a karaoke bar and someone's house, and upon entering (and removing my shoes in exchange for a set of slippers owned by the house), I stepped up onto the immaculate black-and-white checkerboard floor and into the 1950's as viewed through a broken funhouse mirror. Every surface was bedecked with oversized black-and-white headshots of celebrities. Audrey Hepburn smoldered over the entrance, James Dean reclined over the jukebox, and clean-shaven waxed-hair hotrodders lounged in their frames over the widescreen plasma TV. The proprietors, a Japanese oldies rocker (his guitar was neatly packed in its case between two amps- one, petite and clean, and the other a bass cabinet roughly the size of a fat man's wardrobe) and his Filipino wife walked up, and welcomed us into the empty shop in perfect, immaculate English. Next to the jukebox was the store's only nod to its country of residence- a potted bamboo plant.

The owner, evidently, had fallen in love with America of the 1950's when he was but a child- he saw American Graffiti when he was in Middle School, and caught the bug HARD. He owns a beautiful pink 1959 convertible Caddy. His picture, with his car, features prominently in a vintage car magazine he keeps in a cupboard three feet from the jukebox. His oldies band plays every other Sunday- the concerts coincide with the meetings of his vintage car club. This store is the realization of a long childhood dream. What, pray tell, do they serve?

Okonomiyaki. Yep. Japanese egg pancakes. It is, to my knowledge, the only 1950's-themed squid and pork soba pancake establishment in existence. Pictures are forthcoming- no way to download them onto the work computer, and I've got to go back to get some more anyways.

I can't make this stuff up. If only I could...

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Where the heck have I been?


We've entered the crazy season, as far as school in Japan goes. The third graders are studying like demons for their highschool entrance tests, and last week at Hayama Junior High was an exam week. Normally, this would mean no class- but I got the chance to go teach elementary school again. My respect for the elementary schoolteachers of the world has leapt to unimaginable heights- it's a never-ending song and dance show, and the teachers I see in the classroom (the endless founts of energy and enthusiasm) are completely different people than the grey shapes I saw slumped in the teacher's office. Perhaps I just made it there on a bad day. Everyone was happy- everyone seems to enjoy their jobs- but they also seem to crash HARD the moment class ends. The kids don't seem to notice.

The kids, in fact, are terrifyingly charming. Last week, while I was up doing my song and dance, I was approached by a pair of little girls who, in perfect English, asked my name and how I was doing. Turns out these girls are from Brazil and Peru, and just wanted to talk- they're having a hard time getting along with their classmates, they get a bit of flak for being foreign- and were thrilled as anything to have an English-speaking teacher around. We chatted for awhile about how much we missed stuff from home, and then they both wandered back to class. They were fourth-graders. The moment they walked away, I was swarmed by kids from the other classes; holding their hands out for handshakes, producing tiny pencils and slips of paper for me to sign, asking me to jump and touch the ceiling, and generally treating me as if I were an alien rockstar that had just crawled from a crater (rather than an alien teacher that had flown Northwest like everybody else).

The middle school kids are just as cool, but for different reasons. What with the testing in progress and graduation just around the corner, a sense of fatalism and The Long Goodbye has settled over the school. For most of February, I was at Hayama Jr. High- a fifteen-minute bikeride through a few ricefields away from my house. I've since been transferred to the next school- which means I won't see the Hayama 3rd graders in class ever again. They treat graduation like a funeral here- I didn't see a single kid happy to be leaving middle school. They talked about their highschool entrance exams with a kind of resignation- those that passed tried to keep it to themselves, those that failed were SHATTERED. I got a lot of "don't forget me" comments, and a few students, on my last day, walked up and said in unison "I want to don't say goodbye!"

I didn't have the heart to correct 'em.

Got a letter yesterday from one of the students at that school, routed through interschool mail, as I'm now at my next school. It reads:

"Dear Mr. Andrew Moll,

Thanks to your help, I like English. I'll never forget you. I hope you are well,

Sincerely Yours,

Shimada Yuko."

Stuck to the letter was a vending-machine photograph- which is lucky, as I had no idea who Shimada Yuko was. Turns out it's a girl in one of the 3rd grade classes who I honestly can't recall having talked to, or even really called upon in class. One of the quiet kids. I'm confused and touched all at once.

As most everyone is finished with the book, lessons as of late have been "Andrew-Sensei's Crazy Games"- so work is fun. Those of you thinking you'd like to teach English in Japan: BUY GAMES BOOKS. Start reading them now. Test a few, get a list ready. As the curriculum is mandated from upon high by the Ministry of Education, your flexibility is measured entirely in ten-minute games that you can sneak in at the beginnings and ends of classes.

Outside of work, life in Japan continues to be an adventure. Snapshot:

I was wandering Kyoto the other day with Veronica, and we stumbled across a cafe hidden underneath an art gallery, around the corner from the Teramachi shopping/temple district. It's down a precarious set of stairs papered in neon fliers from every musical act that has come, is coming or will come to the Kansai area, and the entire deal appears to have been excised from the active resistance zone of an Eastern European post-Soviet republic. Every surface is weathered and pitted, the door leading in hangs (calculatedly) just shy of true, and the heavily leaded glass filters all varieties of incoming light to "hazy dusk". You sit at large wooden tables on benches bolted to the concrete walls, and the layers of chipping paint give way to dimples and scratches that the proprietors seem to have no intention of fixing. It's pretentious, it's a little loud, it's a magnet for art students, and I absolutely love it. The level of care and craftsmanship that it took to make this place look neglected and abandoned is beautiful, seamless, and incredibly Japanese. The name?

Cafe Independants.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I You Valentine Day Gift ! What do you like chocolates?

In which we discover that my students are charming.

I need to work a bit harder at teaching them English, though. The title of this post was uttered unto me by a timid kid who never speaks in my class, as she brandished a bag of homemade chocolates in front of her as an exorcist brandishes a cross. Valentine's Day in Japan is a bit different.

Here, girls are obligated to give boys chocolates- not just boys they like, or boys they're interested in. Nigh unto every male they know receives a bag or box. The female teachers in my desk-block pooled their money and bought all the guys chocolates. The vice-principal handed out boxes. The girl students each brought to school a voluminous sack, and from it produced box after box after box- almost every boy in their class, all their male teachers; every Y chromosome among us left school carrying our own body weight in chocolate.

I was not excluded from this ritual. My desk accrued candy on it's own- I'd leave for class and return to find a gold box sitting there with an incomprehensible note ("Valentine Chocolate Give You!") and ALL the girls spent yesterday in giggling fits. There are three kinds of chocolate on Valentine's Day in Japan- tomochoco ("friend chocolate"), girichoco ("Obligatory Chocolate", for your superiors) and honchoco ("Real Chocolate", for those you are unafraid to use the L-Word with), and each one has a different subclass of sweets dedicated to it. Tomochoco's realm is that of the brownie and the chocolate pastry- handmade or storebought, your friends won't care. Girichoco is usually well-wrapped foreign chocolate- they like anything with French or Italian on the wrapper. Honchoco had damn well better be handcrafted, home-made chocolate showing an excruciating attention to detail, and if it's got no love letter, it's a pale imitation.

In this flurry of feminine giving, there is a catch. On March 14th, one month later, men are required (all male chocolate is pretty much girichoco, as I see it) to make a return gift OF DOUBLE VALUE OF THE ORIGINAL GIFT on "White Day". These return gifts are also subject to qualifications.

Should the male wish to win the heart of his paramour, the creme de la creme of White Day Gifts is the gift of cookies. Yeah. Girls have to buy exotic and expensive ingredients, guys have to break out the Pilsbury. On the other hand, ponder, if you will, how many cookies these poor guys are going to have to make to reach the double value requirement.

The second class of White Day Gifts, indicating close friendship or high respect, is the gift of white chocolate or of sweet pastry. It's no cookie, but it's nice.

The lowest class of White Day Gift is the humble marshmallow, indicating nothing but a fulfillment of your societal duty. You could be a jerk and give nothing, but the marshmallows are safer, and no doubt cheaper in the long run.

All of this knowledge comes to me in the form of student response to my incredulous queries- "You mean your boyfriends never give you chocolates on Valentine's Day? No flowers? No jewelry? You! Ryoichi! You have NO IDEA how lucky you have it! Ii Naa!" and as such surprises me as much as it probably surprises you. For my part, I exerted some Western Cultural Pressure and passed out little chocolates to all the girls I know- I am, after all, here to teach my culture.

Now: QUESTION TIME! My "Valentine's Day You Gift" is to answer a few of the questions that I've more or less let slide for awhile- sorry, guys- I should be keeping on top of this.

How do you wash chopsticks? Is it by hand, or do they have dishwasher inserts? -Galby
I don't have a dishwasher- I wash them all by hand. I can assure you it takes less than three seconds to make a chopstick immaculate- they have no curves, angles, bends or nooks in which dirt can hide. If you're REALLY all up on washing them in your dishwasher, here's my recommendation: Go to the hardware store. Buy some aluminum mesh- the aluminum won't rust like steel would. Cut it to fit the bottom of one of your silverware tray compartments. Water will flow through, but chopsticks won't. Caveat (and I only say this because Galby, our fair questioner, is a man after my own heart- he wouldn't think to do this any more than I would): run the dishwasher a few times with nothing in it to get any treatment they've got off the metal.

So you're saying the rigid social structure in the workplace breaks down at after-work activities? - Rusty
Absolutely. The Japanese believe strongly (and I can make this generalization because they really do) in separating work and play into compartments which never, ever touch each other. If you and your boss get together after work and go out for drinks, neither one of you "remembers" the other's unprofessional behavior in the morning. So do whatever you want. Make a pass at the waitress. Sing bad karaoke. Go to a public bath and stand before him as G-d made you. You will both pretend it never happened until you leave work again- it's like everyone here lives as two people. The young folks don't stick to the rule quite as much- when in the company of other young people, they will joke around at work- but around the bosses and with any outsiders, they are a unified block of people whose sole purpose is their task.

Even though the two experiences are separate, the effects are visible- this kind of cathartic play serves as a counterbalance to the stress of work. The Japanese work extremely long hours and the concept of "overtime" is still pretty foreign to them. By letting all barriers fall after work, they get along better in the workplace- a shared, open secret of misbehaviour makes you want to have smooth interoffice relationships.

Is there anything you miss from home? -Rusty
I've kind of passed the Big Slump- the things I used to miss are so far away in terms of time and place that I really don't notice them. Japanese food now tastes normal- fish tastes like my memory of chicken, chicken like my memory of beef, and beef has become something I really don't WANT to eat all the time. Big, stocky, wholesome foods feel like too much, too chunky, too rough. I find myself craving white rice. I haven't had a Coke in months- it's too sweet, too sticky. Tea, coffee, lemon water and sports drinks. I can't smell Japan anymore- the sweet, sickly smell of fructose I talked about way earlier? It's probably still here, but I think it's soaked in.
There are still ways to catch western TV and movies- if I've got fifteen bucks to spare, I could go see last month's North American releases in the theaters. TV runs the BBC in a split-language format- there's an English button on my remote control (that I find myself neglecting).

My friends and family feel pretty far off, but this weekly(ish) report is a dialogue, of sorts, so I don't feel like I've left anything permanently behind. When I get homesick, I loiter online until I find someone to talk to (now that I'm bringing my computer to work, I'm seeing a few more green bubbles on the buddylist- you guys ARE 12-14 hours behind), and I'm honestly too busy (and too happy- every time I order dinner I get a rush of accomplishment- food kanji are HARD) to think much about what I'm missing.

I'm in a good place, and I hope everybody else is too.

Sparks out.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Naked Time!

Writing is therapeutic.
This past weekend was the annual Board of Education trip to the onsen- a hot spring resort/public bathhouse. Every person I know that I have to address in honorific, superformal "I am scum, but please listen to my humble request honored master... may I drink this tea you've brought me? I am content to let it sit there and grow cold rather than commit the rudeness of sullying your eyesight with my horrific table manners" style speech piled onto a bus early Saturday morning and headed north, to Fukui Prefecture. The bus trundled all the way up to the Sea of Japan, made a right, and kept going for a few hours before we actually got there- and from the moment we stepped onto the bus, cans of beer were handed around and consumed at an alarming (to my ethnocentric eyes... if you drink before 11:00am in Michigan, you're an alchoholic) rate. Bear in mind, these are the BOSSES. The big shots. They are the top players in the local educational/political game. Japan has never had Prohibition- there are no social impediments to drunkenness. It shows.
Shortly after leaving, my magic cellphone/camera/email client ran out of batteries and became a pretty blue paperweight- I am disappointed beyond belief that I have no pictures of the AMAZING shoreline of the Sea of Japan. Rock spires leap out of the water with a jaggedness and immediacy that suggests that just before you arrived, these things fell from the mountains that loom over the shoreline, and you're going to be a lucky man if you're not struck by the latest boulder to aspire to islandhood. These mini-islands are topped, inconceivably, by scrub trees and moss- despite the fact that their sheer sides reach no less than ten meters up from the waterline. It's amazing country up there- I've got to go back when it's warmer.
After a terrifying ride through tunnels, mountain passes and general geologic insanity, we arrived first at a little roadside restaurant (whose name escapes me) for a lunch break. The town where this restaurant sits is famous for it\'s bamboo- everything in the restaurant (and attached gift shop!) is made of the stuff. Bamboo cups are awesome- just cut a chunk out of the stalk and slap a bottom in there. It looks almost too easy.

Lunch at the Bamboo restaurant was tasty, but our ultimate destination was still about an hour away, up the coastline to Awarase City, and the Grandia Awarase Onsen. Awarase is a fairly small town- smaller than Ritto, from the looks of it- but in the middle of the town there's a giant thirteen-story hotel in which I spent the rest of Saturday and the morning of Sunday. We did not leave to eat. We did not leave to shop. And about half the time, we did not wear clothes.

When you arrive at one of these things, you are led to your room and pick up a cotton kimono (yukata) that you wear at all times in the non-bath area of the hotel. The moment I entered, one of the workers (a charming lady in her late fifties with a beautiful set of gold teeth that certainly served as a model for the gangsta-rap gold fronts) pressed a special "large size" yukata into my hands, explaining quickly in Japanese that it was the biggest they had. It wasn't too terribly small- just... um... short-sleeved- and the hem, which ideally brushes the tops of your ankles, would be described on a woman as "provocative". On my hairy legs, it was just plain small. The robes were color-coded: Blue for boys, red for girls.

The hotel was entirely traditionally-styled. We slept ten to a room, rolling out futons at night on the fresh-cut bamboo floor (the room still smelled of green bamboo- it was great), and our sleep space at night was converted into a lounge during the day by folding up the futons, stuffing them in closets, and setting out low tables and big fluffy cushions. The moment we all changed into our robes and got settled, it was time for a trip to the baths. The baths, like the clothes, are segregated into a men's section and a women's section- which is good, as you are expected to take your bath au naturale.

These things are like steamy, silent, naked churches. Nobody talks. Everyone shuffles around in the mist, murmuring in low voices and holding tiny hand towels in front of them to avoid complete embarassment. The process is as follows: First, you go sit in the sauna and sweat for twenty minutes. Then, you wash off all the dirt from the outside world, and go sit in the sulfrous waters of the hotspring. After you're done there, you rinse. The smell of brimstone never comes out- between that, and the constant cigarette smoke, by the end of the trip I smelled like a creature from the Pit.

The outdoor bath is, in character, the diametric opposite of the indoor bath. It is not steamy. It is in no way churchlike. This one was on the fifth floor of the hotel, on a balcony with a waist-high (by Japanese standards- adjust your mental pictures accordingly) glass wall dividing you from the elements and from onlookers. Clear glass- not frosted, not bubbled, not in any way diverting the onlookers below from your naked form. I recieved more than one enthusiastic wave from a ground-level passerby. Before this trip, I could count the number of people who have seen me in my unfettered glory on one hand- including family members and medical professionals. This is no longer the case, and I feel like I've lost something.

We had dinner after the first soak in the baths, everyone sitting around a large u-shaped arrangement of low tables in their cotton kimono, wolfing down fresh crab from the Sea of Japan and an array of raw fish. Like every party, the wine flowed freely. I took up a bottle of sake and toured the room with it, pouring cups for my betters, and as such, got to avoid the hordes of people looking to pour for me. It's like a little game we play here in Japan, where peer pressure is a positive social force.

After the impressive dinner (punctuated by speeches and speeches regarding the exploits of the two retirees who were the guests of honor, spiced with deep bows and empty cups) we retired, en masse, to the in-hotel Karaoke house. I was, of course, pressed to perform. Their English selection spanned the breadth of all musical genres, as long as you wanted to sing Tom Jones or Ray Charles. I'll spare you the ugly details, but suffice it to say that Ray is a whole lot more fun to sing.

After Karaoke, it was time for a quick trip to the Ramen shop (also in the building- they just charge your room for all of this). Just before ducking out of the karaoke bar, I was approached by three young gas station attendants from Fukui who demanded to know my country and area of origin, and proceeded to keep me up to date with the exploits of my hometown sports teams. Evidently, the Pistons are strong this year, and they have international popularity. Even in a tiny town on the Sea of Japan, they are pop culture gods. The American Olympic Soccer team looks good enough that one of the gas-stand guys tells me he's going to root for them against Japan. Kids these days- no sense of national pride.

After the ramen shop, back to the bath. It was largely the same. Over the course of the weekend, I lost two kilograms- I think I might be a bit dehydrated.

Then, finally, it was time for bed. In one of the rooms, the party continued until the wee hours, drinking and carousing like the secret to brewing beer had been lost to the ages, and these guys found the last case.

I, however, stumbled back to my futon to collapse. We slept side-by-side, nine people lined up on futons with one-foot walking spaces between them. Custom dictated we sleep while wearing the cotton kimono; as a result, the next morning I wandered the hotel a wrinkled mess.

After one more dip in the baths (so very relaxing, but the brimstone smell really gets to you after awhile), there was time for a quick breakfast and then back on the road. Culture Moment! They serve soft-boiled eggs at the onsen- calling them "Onsen Eggs"- I'm not sure whether or not they actually boil the eggs in the water or it just seems that way, as they do IN FACT smell like a hot spring. Mmmm... eggs that smell like rotten eggs....

The trip home was more astounding scenery, with two notable stops: One, the Sea of Japan Daffodil Museum (a two-tiered establishment built at the bottom and top of a huge cliff- access to the top half of the museum is via a dangerous, steep, snowy, slippery, adjective-laden set of steps), and a fishmarket in Fukui. Almost everyone on the bus went home with a crab in a box- and these crabs are about the size of a deep-dish pizza. They're huge. The fishmarket was a huge indoor bazaar, hawking every kind of seafood I know about and quite a few I don't- again, my camera's lack of battery is a hated coincidence.

So that's Fukui- fish, naked men, and sulfur.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dancing With Myself

Even in Japan, Billy Idol songs hold a kind of kitschy cultural cache.

Finally, a free moment. Being back at Hayama is great, but it's also six different kinds of ridiculous. Early last week, I was reunited with the teacher who (granted, this part's pretty cool) that every day, at the start of English class, the kids would benefit from singing along with popular music from the much-vaunted Western Hemisphere. Who would the vanguards be, for this bold initiative?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Britney Spears, Stevie Wonder, and Rogers and Hammerstein. These kids are tapped into the pulse of the RIGHT NOW with an intensity that borders on obsessiveness. I'm waiting for Billy Idol to make an appearance- he's my canary in the mine, my sign that things have progressed beyond horribly wrong and into a realm from which no man may return.

That, and I wanna see a class of 36 Japanese kids singing White Wedding.

Other weird stuff that happened last week? A kid reached out as I was patrolling the aisles and rubbed my stomach. For no reason. He said- loosely translated- "HA! That feels cool." When I stepped back, he scrambled out of his seat to follow. It is at this point that I made a fatal mistake. I brushed his hands down and away from me, laughing to accentuate the silliness of it all.

He took hold of the opportunity that presented itself, and post-handful-of-crotch, returned to his seat with a proud grin. I looked to my team teacher for a bit of help on this one, as yelling "Hands off the merchandise!" unfortunately doesn't directly translate into Japanese- I tried, got nothing but confused looks- and you'll never believe what the teacher said.

She leaned over the student, smiling sweetly, and said "Ask first."


I couldn't have made that up if I had tried. After a week of this kind of comedy of errors (I have classroom stories for DAYS- most of them revolve around teaching the kids to play Charades, which is entirely foreign to them), I had the opportunity to go to Kyoto for Setsubun on Friday. It's a post-new-year's festival to drive out demons by throwing handfuls of soybeans at their heads. People dress in demon costumes, there's a lot of bean-related chaos. Unfortunately, the fusillade of beans occurred on Thursday- the night I went, with the Foreign Crew, was the Food Night. I'm not complaining. Festival stalls in this country sell all manner of crazy food- squid on a stick, sweet potato french fries, the everpopular takoyaki and okonomiyaki... and they sell it next to booths hawking Playstation games, gardening implements, power tools and giant knives- in case you came to the festival to, say, build a treehouse, stock it with video games, and defend it to the death. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, I present the piece de resistance.
Yeah. That there's a giant fish head. It's bigger than my head. Note how it is the same size as the girl's TORSO on the left.

The shrine complex itself was unimaginably beautiful- just after this picture, it started to snow- big, drafty flakes that covered everything.
Were I a smart man (no claims there) I would have taken more pictures- next time.

All of these shrines have the big coin-boxes into which you huck (it's a verb- to huck) money into, clap, pray, clap again and move on. It's like a giant offering plate- a Karma Bank, if you will. So first we got our pray on, next to an alcove where the temple maidens were dancing with katana and handing out blessings to various important-looking besuited people. Then, we came across the big row o' candles- light one for luck. Having already made a deposit in the karma bank, and knowing full well that we were likely angering ancestor spirits with our very presence, we pushed on through the crowd (hint: Japan was not manufactured with the claustrophobic in mind) and up to the second shrine, where they were serving hot tea brewed through soybeans and handfulls of roasted beans, all gratis. Seems you're supposed to eat 1 + your age in soybeans to ensure you have a good year. Twenty-four soybeans, eaten one-by-one, feels like a TON of them when you're finished. I pity some of the old ladies who were dutifully chugging down veritable mountains of the stuff. Side note- green tea brewed with soybeans tastes at first horrible- it's SALTY- but it grows on you really fast, and you'll come to regret that it's served but one day a year. At least, I did.

After the festival, we all bailed back to our respective homes to rest up before reassembling the Foreign Legion to explore Osaka. We hit the Osaka National Gallery of Art (five-second review: Mediocre impressionists on loan from the Pushkin, awesome contemporary stuff in Basement 1, cool building), had lunch at the Hail Hail Organic Cafe by Sol Vita (more names I CAN'T MAKE UP), and then went to the Osaka Human Rights Museum.

It's not really a feel-good experience, but it's a positive thing to have- it pulls very few punches, and addresses a lot of the civil rights issues that Japan has faced/is facing/will face. The centerpiece exhibitions feature the Ainu (Ainu:Japan :: Native Americans:America), the victims of industrial pollution (a HUGE problem here, especially during the 60's and 70's), gender issues, AIDS, hate crime of all sorts, and (the big one) the Buraku.

I think I've given the lowdown on these guys before- short version, leatherworkers, butchers and tanners are a stigmatized subcaste over here, as they are believed to be unclean. They handled the discussion very tactfully at the Osaka Human Rights Museum- an especially nice touch, in my mind, is that they've got animal hides in layered racks with a big sign inviting people to "Let's Touch Many Kinds of Leathers!" If everybody goes to the museum and partakes in the taboo, everybody's tainted. Good move, Osaka.

After that, in need of something happy to balance it out, we went and found 1. the Mac Store (oh, little iBook, I want you so) and 2. A Mexican Restaurant. Burritos. Are. Awesome.

On the way to "Hermanos", I caught a glimpse of this beauty- evidently, James Brown is into Korean food.I again stress my inability to make this stuff up.

The next day, after our long Osaka trip, we went snowboarding. It was fun- the snow was great. I have some cool pictures left over from a previous trip (to Mt. Hakodate) that I share at this time to support my hypothesis:

In this country, the pinnacle of slopes fashion is rooted securely in the 1980's.
The mist in these pictures was much cooler in person- click to blow 'em up, and you might catch what I mean- there's a thick fog covering Lake Biwa, and the distant mountains are poking out like islands- it's almost as impressive a sight as the day-glo ski gear.