THEY HAVE similar backgrounds to Jess, the Indian girl in the British comedy Bend It Like Beckham, but they live in Hong Kong, not Britain. While Jess struggles between Indian and English cultures, these youngsters, from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand, are finding it hard to integrate into Chinese society. Few, if any, have Chinese friends. And Cantonese to them is a mystery. The separation of students into Chinese and non-Chinese speaking classes makes things worse. As a result, most South Asian youth stick with their own kind. And some, like 18-year-old Pakistani Sidhrah Mahmood and her two friends, are trying hard to learn Cantonese at the Multicultural Service Centre for South Asian Ethnic Minorities in Yau Ma Tei. 'Communication is the first step in building a friendship,' said Sidhrah, who came to the SAR seven years ago and now lives in Tai Wai. 'But we can't speak Cantonese and some Chinese don't understand English.' She said it was easier for South Asian teenagers who were born in Hong Kong to make friends because they were more familiar with the Chinese culture and language. Sidhrah and her 19-year-old Pakistani pal, Shazia BiBi, who has also been living in Hong Kong for seven years, do not have any Chinese friends. Nazia Iqbal, 18, a Ho Man Tin resident who was born in Hong Kong, used to have Chinese friends at school but has lost contact with them since they changed schools. The three girls are very close and usually spend their weekends together. The South Asian social scene is similar for non-Chinese boys. Mohammad Shoaeb, 16, who lives with his family in Homantin, spends every evening with his Pakistani friends at a Hunghom football court. 'We just sit there and talk, but sometimes we play a little,' he said. 'We go there because there aren't many people.' He said they also hang out in video game arcades and Internet cafes. Sometimes, they cross the border to Shenzhen, where they go shopping and sing karaoke. While Hong Kong teenagers get the latest CDs from Mongkok's Sino Centre, South Asian youth go to Chungking Mansion in Tsim Sha Tsui to buy CDs and movies. They also visit some music stores in Temple Street, To Kwa Wan and Sham Shui Po. Socialising is not the only obstacle South Asian teenagers face. Education is also a problem. Well-off families send their children to international schools or overseas, but the average family has problems finding school places. Only a few schools, such as Sir Ellis Kadoorie Secondary School in Tai Kok Tsui and Delia Memorial School in Kwun Tong and Mei Foo, offer classes for these youngsters. Social worker Ho Pui-ling at the Multicultural Service Centre for South Asian Ethnic Minorities said because of this problem, some South Asian youth have to travel a long distance to get to school. Ms Ho thinks schools in different districts should offer classes for English-speakers. 'To help these youth adjust to the local culture and education system, preparatory courses should be offered to them when they first arrive,' she said. 'There are such courses available for children, but not for teenagers.'