Two former gang members realised life is too short for mindless violence and the shame of being stopped by the police, writes Wong Yat-hei
Nighttime on a public housing estate seems to belong to gangs of youths who roam the parks and playgrounds of the neighbourhood. These youngsters don't seem bothered about going home, and often get in trouble with the police for involvement in gang fights and triad activities.
San Jai quit school at the age of 15 to work as a waiter. Every night, he and his friends would hang out in the park to play video games and ride bikes. They disturbed people in the neighbourhood, so the police would send them home. The teens' boredom led them to join a gang.
San Jai and his gang would often get into fights with other youngsters.
'When we were walking around at night, we would run into people who we thought offended us. We'd beat them up. They might have been complete strangers, but we just wanted to hit them. Sometimes we'd get into fights just to impress the girls. It was really stupid,' he says.
San Jai, who is now 17, says when a fight broke out between two gangs, both sides would call more members to help, and fights often ended in bloodshed.
Youth gangs are usually divided by housing estate, and conflicts can range from arguments at school to walking into another gang's territory.
'A fight could happen just because a guy from another gang ... walked his girlfriend home and the gang didn't like it,' says San Jai.
Fights among gangs on different estates tended to be well-planned. 'My gang often won if the fight took place in our territory because we knew it so well,' says San Jai.
'We'd know where to escape and we could hide weapons in places only our gang members would know. We'd hide knifes, spanners and glass bottles in secret places and dig them out if needed.'
One night, a big fight broke out and the police were called in. The whole neighbourhood was surrounded by police and San Jai was questioned for a long time before he was allowed to go. From then on, San Jai was approached by police every time he saw them.
'It felt really bad being labelled by the police and being inspected every single time I went out. After the incident, all the members worried about getting together, so the gang broke up,' he says.
Egg, 18, is another former youth gang member. He says most of the gangs are in some way related to the triads.
'In a gang, there's sure to be one or two guys who know people from the triads. On paper, the whole gang is under a triad even if only a few of them are really involved in triad business. Most of them carry a triad name because they think it's cool.'
Both San Jai and Egg have severed their gang connections and are working for Youth Outreach, a crisis intervention centre for young people. San Jai heard about the group when he was in primary school, and decided to join them after quitting his gang, while Egg heard of the group through its dance programmes.
Although both young men feel embarrassed by their past, their work as youth ambassadors is helping them overcome those feelings and warn other youngsters not to make the same mistakes.