For long-time Yau Ma Tei locals, bloody attack reminiscent of Hong Kong district’s darker days

Police open fire on men during machete attack

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2016, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2016, 11:59pm

Hon Shee-wah remembers clearly how the streets around Yau Ma Tei used to teem with gangsters, nightclubs and violence back in the 1980s.

Hon, now 57 and deputy senior pastor at the Fuk Lam Church on Temple Street, knew the area like the back of his hand, being a gang member himself.

“There were a lot of nightclubs there and so surely there were also many gangsters in the area,” he said. “Sometimes they have conflicts because of their many different interests.

“Back then people were fighting all the time. But it is not the case now any more because the area has been turned into a tourist spot. It has prospered.”

But on Sunday morning, police fired four shots at two men who were attacking another man with machetes. The drama prompts the question of how much Yau Tsim Mong district –Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok – has evolved from the dark days.

While mahjong parlours and nightclubs can still be found in the neighbourhood, gangsters with dragon tattoos on their arms and backs no longer go out in forces at night.

“As society has progressed, it’s hard to be a gang member these days,” said Hon, a witness to the district’s ups and downs in the past decades.

Another change he has noticed is the increase of Yau Ma Tei’s South Asian population.

In some buildings, he said, 70 per cent of the residents were of South Asian origin.

“Some of them are homeless and sleep in the aisles of the buildings,” Hon said.

Police have identified that Sunday’s attackers were of South Asian origin.

Stalls destroyed as fire tears through Yau Ma Tei Wholesale Fruit Market

A major problem, Hon said, was the lack of support for newcomers to the city. Some employers, he said, are reluctant to hire them because they do not speak Cantonese.

“We from the church have been helping the homeless people and we realised an increase of homeless South Asians. Society should help them,” Hon said.

Growing up in Jordan, Yau Tsim Mong District Council chairman Chris Ip Ngo-tung recalls witnessing gang members fighting from one end of the street all the way to the other during his younger years.

“The area nowadays is not like 20 or 30 years ago,” Ip said. “The police have also beefed up their efforts to crack down on triad activities.”

While the area has become much safer over the years, Ip said, there has been an increase in fighting in the past few months. He said he asked the force to beef up patrols in the area.

“Sometimes people were fighting because they were drunk,” he said.

A woman working in a restaurant near the crime scene said she feared for her safety after Sunday’s shooting.

“When I came back, the officers had already subdued the attackers on the floor. The ambulances arrived shortly after,” she said. “There were a lot of fights in this area, especially during the holidays. I am actually quite scared of working here.”