Ex-triad says it's no life, despite the image

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2012, 12:00am

The image of a triad leader in films is of someone with hundreds of followers, who chop rival gangsters and confront police. But being a member of a triad may not be as cool as the imagine.

'Every day I was haunted with fear,' a former member says of his years in a triad. 'When I heard loud footsteps behind me, I had to look back to see if it was [people out to get revenge on me] or police.'

Mandi (not his real name) is 37, and looks no different from any other man of his age. But when he was a triad his hair was dyed gold, he showed off his scorpion tattoos and wore flared jeans with holes.

Influenced by his triad father, Mandi had met many triad members since he was a child and thought there was nothing wrong with them.

'I saw those 'uncles' as being very cool,' he said. 'People called them 'big brother' and respected them. They did not need to pay when they ate in a restaurant. It seemed very good to be one of them and I liked the feeling of being cool.'

Mandi join a youth gang when he was 12. He left school and underwent ceremonies to become an official triad when he was 15. He was first involved in collecting debts and protection money.

He said his 'big brother' offered him protection in the beginning, so he was loyal to the gang and thought there was a 'triad brotherhood', meaning that members would selflessly help each other.

But soon he found that was not the case. His 'big brother' did not look out for him, and only called when Mandi was needed to fight a rival gang.

'Every time we fought, it was not the 'big brother' who fought at the front, as in many movies; actually he stayed at the back,' Mandi said.

'We were always the ones fighting in the front. He was the one calling for a fight, but why were we the ones who died first?'

He started to learn that the rule in triad societies was that people were concerned only about their own interests. So he began to recruit his own followers and initiate his own business by selling pirate VCDs (video compact discs) and drugs. He also started using drugs himself.

He said he was not as rich as one would have thought because he needed to buy drugs, pay for bail and legal fees when he was arrested, and most importantly to offer his followers food and entertainment to keep their loyalty.

He was arrested three times for drug-related offences, serving one- and two-year sentences. His triad friends began to keep aloof from him when he became heavily addicted to drugs, as he could no longer contribute to the triad society.

The final time Mandi was caught, he volunteered to enter a drug treatment centre, where he became a Christian and quit drugs.

He is now a programme assistant at the Society of Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention, helping problem youngsters.

Looking back, Mandi thinks he was 'silly and naive' to have joined a triad, because it was not as cool as he had thought.

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