Recent slashing cases in Ang Mo Kio & Orchard Cineleisure make some wonder if the bad old days of secret societies are returning. -TNP
SINGAPORE - Each time Madam Goh Mui Yen goes to the wet market, she tries to avoid the playground two blocks from her home in Chai Chee.
A recent run-in with a group of seven or eight youngsters - she reckons they are in their late teens - who hang around there has frightened her so much that she even reminds her grandchildren "to walk the other way", even though it's a longer route.
Madam Goh, 67, a grandmother of three, recounts the incident that took place earlier this year. She had walked past the playground when she heard loud shouts of help from a girl in the group, many of whom are "familiar faces loitering around the area".
"They were smoking and making so much noise, and when I heard the shout, I just turned to look in their direction," says the housewife.
By the time she realised they were just fooling around, "my look had offended them", she recalls. The girl who shouted for help walked up to Madam Goh, shoved her right shoulder and asked in Hokkien: "What the **** are you looking at?"
Says the small-sized woman with silver hair: "I was so scared that I just hurried away. The group just laughed loudly and I heard one of them say, 'If we see 'mata' (policemen) here, you better watch out.'"
The threat worked.
"I think it's safer to ignore them than to kick up a fuss or involve the police," she says. Madam Goh's experience is shared by several others I approached in Bedok, Tampines, Chai Chee, Pasir Ris and Potong Pasir, just days after Mr Mohammad Ashiq Saptu, 20, was slashed in Ang Mo Kio last Sunday.
On Friday, Zainul Ahmad Ridauddin Zainul Arriffudin, 26, was charged with causing grievous hurt to Mr Ashiq at the foot reflexology corner in front of Block 641, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4.
Of the 40 heartlanders I randomly approached, 31 say they have come across rowdy groups of youngsters who act brazen and can turn aggressive "in broad daylight".
But when I spoke to another 20 residents at ground zero of the Ang Mo Kio slashing, their sentiments differed. Only two residents are "very worried" over the perceived presence of troublemakers.
The others tell this Heartland Auntie that they believe it's an isolated case and were only "mildly concerned".
Mr Abdul Karim, 55, a part-time cleaner taking an evening stroll at the park, says his wife told him about the slashing incident in their neighbourhood.
"But I really don't think there's any cause for alarm, it's not like this has happened often," he adds.
"The place is usually quite crowded around this time, and we had not come across any trouble so far."
His friend, Mr George Wong, a 56-year-old retiree, nods in agreement. Says the grandfather of four: "I'd still bring my grandchildren down here when they come over on weekends."
Mr Wong, who witnessed the aftermath of the attack last week, had his 11-year-old grandson and 14-year-old granddaughter with him.
He says: "Okay lah, as much as I still believe that Singapore and of course, Ang Mo Kio, is generally safe, I remind my grandchildren not to be a 'kaypoh' (Hokkien for busybody).
"I told them to walk away quickly if they sense something is amiss and to call me at once so that I can call the police."
One of the two "very worried" residents, who wants to be known only as Mrs Chew, 40, feels uneasy when she walks past the spot now.
She says: "Maybe it's just psychological but somehow, I'd pull my six-year-old daughter and walk away as fast as I can."
The part-time tutor attributes her fear to the fact that the attack took place at "5.30pm, even before the sun sets" long before nightfall.
She says: "This incident and the other one at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard make me wonder if the rogues are getting bolder."
Six men have been charged with unlawful assembly to cause hurt to a full-time national serviceman in the attack last month, which happened at about 9pm.
Mr Leonard Tan, 49, says he has witnessed "several small fights" in his Bedok neighbourhood over the past few months.
The hawker, who sells Teochew porridge, refrains from getting involved because he does not want to invite trouble.
"I am sure that others will call the police. It's stupid to be nosey because if the troublemakers find out, I could land myself in serious s**t," he says.
But what if everyone adopts the same attitude as he does?
He replies with a shrug of his shoulders: "Then it cannot be helped. As long as they don't harm me or my family, I'd close one eye and pretend I don't see anything."
Other than the common "steer clear and keep mum" line repeated by the people that I spoke to, the question of "are we becoming more violent?" has also come up.
Madam Irene Chen, 49, a payment officer, hopes this is not a sign that "we are going back to the old days of gangs and secret societies".
A reformed gangster, Seng, 63, who put his colourful past behind him nearly 10 years ago, does not think so.
We are not using the reformed gangsters' real names at their request as they have moved on with their lives.
The school dropout joined his first "company" when he was 14.
By the time he was 20, he was commanding a gang of 50 underlings and running gambling dens and brothels in Chinatown.
The old guard of the underworld says: "In the past, all we wanted to do was to make money, lots of big bucks.
"That was our common objective. Many of my men were the typical ones who came from poor or broken family backgrounds.
"We worked hard towards that objective, so when we fought, it'd be over turf and territories (money-making spots), not something as stupid as 'I don't like the way you walk'."
Chye, 53, another reformed gangster, points out that the gang members of the past "didn't whack people just because we 'buay song' (not happy in Hokkien)". It was the same line he told me when we last spoke three years ago.
This Heartland Auntie, who has worked on several stories involving secret societies and gang members, recalls the words of Sam, who had once claimed he was "like a "general manager" with 10 underlings.
Sam, who died of cancer last year, said: "They (the so-called new breed of gang members) are like dogs. If you don't toilet-train them properly when they're young, they will just s*** wherever they want, and do whatever they want."
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