Kylie’s thick black eyeliner stands out in contrast to her pale skin. She is wearing an oversized black T-shirt with a pair of denim shorts as we sit down at Hong Kong Playground Association’s youth centre in Mong Kok. The 15-year-old does not visit the centre much – in fact, this is only the second time she has been here since outreach social worker Lo Ho-yan found her hanging out in a park about six months ago.
When Lo met Kylie, she was already part of a teen gang. Before she joined three years ago, Kylie would go to school on time, study hard, and listen to what her mum said. Apart from the days when she had to attend a tutorial class near her home in Prince Edward, she would go straight home after school.
The turning point came one summer holiday when she met some new friends through her former primary school classmate. That’s when things went downhill. They started hanging out at parks in Mong Kok all the time; Kylie was soon smoking, drinking, and occasionally taking drugs.
Youth gangs in Hong Kong usually hang out in parks or on public basketball courts. Once they got together, Kylie’s gang would smoke and be disruptive, talking and swearing loudly. They would go to upstairs bars in Tsim Sha Tsui where no one cares about underage drinking because the bars are often associated with the triads.
Lo says when youngsters are exposed to improper behaviour, such as underage drinking and intimate relationships, they soon copy such behaviour. This is exactly what happened to Kylie.
“I was a very good girl and I studied hard. Now I don’t do that because I’ve lost interest in my studies ... I’ve lost interest in being a good girl, too,” she says. “Being a good girl was boring. The everyday routine of going to school, coming home and studying was boring.”
She adds that she used to get scared easily. But now, she says, “I’m fearless. Nothing scares me.”
The boldest thing she has done is to deliver drugs from one place to another, and sell them to friends. She says she was doing it as a favour for her ah gor, or “elder brother” – though the relationship was not that of siblings. “We’re very close. We used to date.”
She says, without a hint of regret or concern, that she made HK$4,000 selling the drugs and spent it on a designer label bumbag. “I’m not afraid of being arrested; I don’t even know why,” she says.
Kylie moved to a new gang about a year ago, although she says both are under the same triad. She stopped hanging out with the previous one because of a misunderstanding which later turned into an argument. Kylie was accused of ratting on her gang, and decided to leave on her birthday.
“I regret joining the old gang,” she says. “They blamed me for everything [that went wrong]; I don’t think they were my real friends.
“They abandoned me when there was trouble. There was no loyalty whatsoever.”
She feels a sense of belonging with the new gang. “They’re like family. They won’t force me to do anything, and they’re there for me when I need them,” she says.
One time, Kylie and her gang beat up an ex-boyfriend who had cheated on her. “I just stood aside while my friends kept beating and kicking him,” she says. “If someone hurts me, I’ll hurt them even worse.”
She says that many girls from her previous gang called her a “public toilet”, meaning she was having a lot of relationships with different partners. “It made me sad because I care about what others think of me but I don’t let it show,” she says.
Kylie says that she has been in six serious relationships. She got together with her current boyfriend two hours after breaking up with her ex. They’ve been together for about 20 days.
When asked where she thinks she’ll be in 10 years’ time, Kylie says she will probably have cut all ties with gangs, as she is starting to feel she should be her own first priority. “I’m starting to get annoyed. The gang always comes first.”
Lo says that Kylie did not trust the social workers at first, but is starting to open up. “Now she is starting to trust us. She knows we’re different from her friends.”
Lo adds that Kylie is a work in progress. “She’s done things that are wrong but she’s making some progress. She just wants love and respect.”