Trapped in a cycle of despair

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 12:00am

NG YIU-MING, KNOWN to his friends as Ah Ming, is 31 and sits alone on a bench. Wearing worn slippers, his toenails are grey, his hair greasy and his clothes smell. His 'home' is a dark corner where he sleeps with four or five other homeless men. 'I don't know what my future is,' he mutters sadly.

A decade ago, Ah Ming (right) was a factory labourer. Raised in a poor family in Tuen Mun, he quit school when he was only 12. Poorly educated, he worked in low-paid jobs and ended up on the streets in 1989 at the age of 20.

'Our factory moved all its production to mainland China, I was fired,' he recalls bitterly. 'My father always blamed me for not working. He disliked me going to church, and sometimes said sarcastically: 'Why don't you go and live in church, you will have food if you believe Jesus'. One day, I decided to leave home.'

At first, he slept in a podium above a vegetable market. Then in 1996, a minister from a Yuen Long church took pity on him and offered him a job as a casual worker. 'They paid my rent and food,' he says. But it didn't last for long. 'I couldn't get along with some of the people in the church, so I quit.' Unable to pay his rent, he ended up on the streets again - that was two years ago.

Every day he walks for hours hunting for jobs in factories, food stores and transport companies. 'People look at me from head to toe, and refuse to hire me,' he says.

Ah Ming has worked as a transport worker, in fast food shops, and as a delivery worker for flower shops. Unemployed since June, he survives on $600 to $700 a month by collecting cans and newspapers on the streets, and by eating leftovers from bins.

'Some friends ignore me when they know I sleep on the streets. Now whenever people ask me where I live, I just lie and tell them I live with friends,' he says. 'Passers-by often glance at me from the corner of their eyes, and wrinkle their eyebrows in disgust. In the beginning I felt hurt and cried, now I don't cry anymore. Now when I am unhappy, I comfort myself, saying 'This place is great, has good management and a nice sea view'.' A moment later, Ah Ming falls silent, his eyes are watery with tears. Depression sinks in. 'Ming, what happened? You cry?' the social worker asks. Ah Ming shakes his head. 'Sand's got in my eyes,' he says quietly. A week ago, Ah Ming finally found a job as a delivery worker for a fast food shop. 'One night, I was walking on the street and my former boss saw me. He asked me to go back to work for him,' he smiles. 'I am very happy. I will try my best to stay there, then I can rent a place and get off the streets for good.'