The dragon bites back
For some young people, triad life may look glamorous but in reality all it leads to is trouble.
Joining a gang or triad might seem to offer many benefits at first. For example, in troubled parts of Hong Kong, triads and gangs pretend to offer protection.
For young people with low self-esteem, triads provide a sense of belonging. They also give welcome pocket money to get teenagers to do illegal jobs, such as selling drugs or pirated CDs.
In 2008, police arrested 210 triad members, 60 of whom were juveniles, a relatively high number compared to the 37 juveniles arrested in 2007. But according to Alex Fu Chung-wai, senior inspector of the District Crime Squad, Tuen Mun District, the reason is that the force became much more intimately involved with schools last year.
'The number of youths in triads is not really that high. Sometimes youths think they are in a triad when they are really just in a gang, following a leader to bully people or vandalise property,' says Inspector Fu. Only an experienced professional, like a policeman, can tell the difference after thorough investigations into the group, he adds.
Movies likely make us think triads are a much bigger part of Hong Kong life than they really are, and triad-related crimes accounted for only 3 per cent of overall crime in Hong Kong last year, according to the Hong Kong Police Force.
All the same, Inspector Fu admits stamping out triad crime is a challenge and the organisations continue to attract certain young people - particularly those who do not fit in.
Wilson Chan Man-ho, who heads the Tsuen Wan and Kwai Chung Social Outreach of the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, says: 'Many young people do not succeed in school or cannot find a job. Being in a triad gives youths a sense of belonging they can't find at school or home.'
But the consequences of joining a triad are severe. Even claiming to be a triad member is a criminal offence. Apart from the risk of being jailed, members are often kicked out of school and their family relationships destroyed. They also often get seriously injured in gang fights, Inspector Fu says.
Mr Chan adds: 'Some youths become more antagonistic or violent . . . because triad bosses use violence or cruel ways to get what they want ... and youths learn that violence is the only way to solve problems or control others. It's especially harmful for young people, he adds, because 'these groups usually make them go against everything they learned in school or at home'.
Mr Chan also points out that, unlike in the movies where triad life is governed by a code of chivalry, in real life the triad world is grey rather than black and white, and it is confusing for young people.
Young people should be on their guard, because one of the key duties of a triad member is to recruit more members.
Inspector Fu says: 'They'll pretend to be your friend. They might start by playing ball with you, treating you to snacks and drinks, eating late night meals with you.'
The advice of the experts is that, while there has to be more to life than just school, young people should be alert and aware on the streets.