“Eh!” I felt a tap on my shoulder as soon as I stepped outside the auditorium.
“Hey, which team are you on?” A skinny Asian kid with thick glasses asked with the widest grin. He was a full head shorter than me, even with his hair standing up.
“Team? What team?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
“You know, for the orientation!” He was surprised. “Didn’t you read the school handbook?” He showed me a small booklet.
“School handbook? Hold on, let me check.” I dug into my canvas bag. That Priya lady did mention something of the sort.
“Are you even in the Engineering program?”
“Yeah, of course. I’m in Bioengineering. Look, I’ve got the hardhat for engineers.” I pointed to the yellow shell on my head proudly.
“But how come you haven’t read the handbook?” He was incredulous. “I got it in the mail a month ago, along with other information about Felix Martin University. I’ve read it at least 5 times and have most of the pages memorized. My mom always says it’s good to get a head start on things, so you don’t fall behind.”
“Really? Hmm, I just got mine from the registration desk. Oh, here it is!” I pulled out the handbook from my canvas bag.
“You must be an international student then. Let me help you catch up.” He got excited with the fact I’m an international student. “On page 14, the 2nd paragraph says we’re going to be put into teams for the events this afternoon. There’s going to be a competition and the winning team will receive a prize.”
“I see. So which team are you on?”
“I’m on Gamma Delta Phi. Look, it says right here. I need to register in the Physics building, Room 45.” He flipped to the last page of his student handbook. “Which team are you on?”
“Hold a sec, let me check.” When I opened up my student handbook, I found the same message.
“Woohoo! We’re on the same team!” He jumped up in the air. “We are definitely going to win with you on the team!” He gave me a friendly slap on the back. It was pretty strong coming from a person his size.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“My name is Mateo. Ma-te-o. It’s not Matthew or Mario or Marco. It’s Ma-te-o.” He explained with excitement. “It’s not a common Japanese name and a lot of people mistake it for something else.”
“Are you Japanese then?” I’ve learned a lot about Japan in the textbooks, but I’ve never met a real Japanese person before.
“Bingo! Both of my parents are Japanese. So are their parents and their parents. And I’ve been doing karate since I was a kid. Hyaa!” He chopped the air in front of me. It was so close that I took a few steps back.
“Hyaa! Hyaa! Hyaa!” He chopped a few more times at me, but I was prepared this time and dodged to the left and right.
“You know karate too?” He was pleasantly surprised. The textbooks are right, Japanese people are good at martial arts. It must be the secret to his extraordinary strength.
“Only a little bit. Haha!” I waved my hands to say no. I’ve had combat training since I was young, but it’s definitely not karate.
“Hey, we could practice sometimes!” He jumped up in the air again. “I’m so glad to have met you!”
“It’s nice meeting you too.”
“Woohoo!! Let’s join the karate club together, that way, we can practice every week!” He jumped up with excitement once again.
I would rather not, but my textbooks say that it’s rude to decline invitations directly in this country, so I left the question unanswered. “Hey, you know where the Physics building is? That’s where we are supposed to go for the orientation.”
“Yes! Never fear, when Mateo is here!” He pulled out a piece of paper from his oversized backpack. “I have a map of the entire campus. Let’s see.” He mumbled to himself. “Ah-ha! Here it is!” He pointed to a certain spot. “We’re here, and we need to get to here. Follow me!” He zipped through the crowd like a video game character.
“Hey, wait up!” I followed behind him, half-running. He stopped suddenly at a traffic light and fell completely silent. There were no cars on the streets at all. “Why’d you stop?”
“The red person on means we have to stop.” He pointed to the red light in the shape of a person. “The green person means we can go. Are the traffic lights different where you come from?”
“Yeah, they are. Hahaha!” I laughed off my ignorance. Actually, there are no traffic lights where I come from. Cars don’t share the same paths as pedestrians, they have their own tracks above the ground.
As soon as the light changed to the green person, the large crowd of students which had gathered around us crossed in unison. Mateo dashed straight into the doors of the building across from us. He paused for a few seconds after entering the building to study its layout. “It’s this way!” He dashed up the stairs. It was a workout for me to push through a hallway packed with people at his speed.
Mateo stopped abruptly in front of room 45. He slid the door open gently and bowed before entering. I copied him. The room looked exactly as I had seen in my textbooks. The desks were aligned in rows and each had a chair tucked underneath. A few students had already arrived and sat at tables. I found an empty seat in the third row and sat down in the same way the other students did. With my back straight and chin up.
“Good morning, are you the team leader?” Mateo went straight to the long table at the front of the room and spoke to girl lazing behind it.
“Me, the team leader? No way!” The girl chuckled. Her purple hair was tied up into a ponytail on top of her head. A tiny gold ring peeked out of her nostrils. She wore a light blue engineer overall.
“I’m sorry I was mistaken.” Mateo apologized. “It’s just that I thought you were sitting in the team leader seat.”
“Oh, haha! I’m just a little helper.” She sat up straight in her seat. “He went out for a smoke. He’ll be back soon.” She spoke quite fast and some of her words were slurred. Her face looked rather strange despite the thick layer of make-up she wore. Her eyes were unusually large and close set and her lips were unusually thick.
“Do you happen to know what we’re doing today?” Mateo asked.
“We’re gonna take you guys to the welcome ceremony for the morning. Then have lunch and do some activities. The schedule’s all in the handbook.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest and tilted her chair back. Her careless posture was quite a contrast to the other students in the room.
“I’ve read everything in the student handbook. The events in the welcome ceremony are there, but there’s no details about the activities. Do you know what kind of activities we going to do?” Mateo was persistent.
“The usual, you know. Show you guys around the campus, play some games, do some cheers. And if you want, you can dye yourself the school colour, like me.” She rolled up one sleeve and showed Mateo her bare arm. It was baby blue!
“That looks like a lot of fun!” Mateo was excited. “Do you know how we can win the competition?”
“What competition?” The girl frowned.
“The competition stated on page 24 of the student handbook. It’s also stated that the winning team will win a prize.” Mateo explained.
“Oh, that!” The girl smirked and leaned towards Mateo. “I’ll let you in on a little secret if you promise not to tell anyone.”
Mateo nodded eagerly.
“There’s no prize for the winning team. Surprise!” She said it so loud that even people in the back of the room could hear her.