Yuen Long, a quiet residential area near the Chinese border, has become the unlikely next battlefield of the Hong Kong protest movement.
Over the past seven weeks, demonstrators have planned rallies across the territory – in parks along the main roads, in the airport and outside government offices – calling for the withdrawal of a surrender law and other political demands. But Yuen Long, known as one of the more remote areas in the northwest, has never been on the agenda.
On Sunday, this changed. Commuters returning from dinner, meeting friends, or returning from the Democracy Demonstration in central Hong Kong drove into commuter traffic to find dozens of men in white T-shirts waiting for them. They were masked, armed with rattan staves and other weapons.
Over the next half hour, passengers were tracked, beaten and lashed. Some desperately chose emergency services but did not receive an answer. The police arrived after the attackers left and left before the men returned a second time. At least 45 people were hospitalized.
The attack stunned the locals and many suspected the involvement of organized crime groups, the Triads, who are active in the villages around Yuen Long. The opposition legislator accused the authorities of cooperating with organized crime groups. The police arrested 12 people in connection with the attack, some with a three-headed background.
Immediately after Yuen Long became a ghost town: The shops across the street were closed and the streets were empty. Some locals rented hotel rooms for a few nights out of town.
"I'm scared, I think all Hong Kong people are scared."
As business gradually returned to normal, residents this weekend prepared for clashes between protesters, police, and alleged gangsters, such as the planned demonstration in Kowloon, a commercial and residential district scheduled to head to central Hong Kong on Saturday, was canceled to hold a march in Yuen Long.
"Before the terrorist attack, none of the people come to Yuen Long to protest," said Max Chung, 39, a resident of Yuen Long, who presented papers to the police for the march this weekend. "We have our local problems, our local problems, but it was not really serious until the attacks, so I was so surprised that the villagers are so against the movement."
Mei, who owns a noodle restaurant near the Station opened its doors on Tuesday, and at 7 pm their restaurant was half full. "I'm scared. I think all Hong Kong people are scared, "she said.
Aubree Au, 39, was shocked and appalled by the news of the attack and was unable to sleep that night as she watched live updates from what was happening. "It was literally a gangster movie in real life," she said. It continued to affect her. "It hurts," she said. "I was scared because I knew I lived here."
Yuen Long, a former satellite city built in the 1970s by the British and used for years as arable land, is still largely conservative and marked by village traditions, Chung said. The mood for Beijing and the establishment is strong, especially in the villages where the triads are supported by local authorities and Chinese public security.
However, residents are also frustrated with China's interference with their lives. They blame Chinese tourists and parallel traders, who can reach Yuen Long in half an hour by bus from Shenzhen, driving up real estate and living expenses and overcrowding their streets.
Many in Yuen Long may agree with the protesters, but they decide not to say, given the polarization of the issue, Fong, 60, a local caretaker. "Many people in Yuen Long support the demonstrators, but they will not say it aloud, there is a large, quiet majority," he said.
Fong supported his son, who was in the protests, Fong, who said he was "incredibly angry" for what he considers to be the obvious collusion between police and triads, plans to attend on Saturday March. "I'm not afraid," he said. "The people in Hong Kong are interested in these things. that it matters. "
Not all residents – from Yuen Long or anywhere else – may be as brave as Fong and his son. This time around, the demonstrators fear the Triads, whose presence is usually only visible through the dispersal of mahjong parlors, brothels promoted as massage services, and other stores in Yuen Long. "Usually they do not hurt people, they're businessmen," Fong said.
Before the attack on Sunday, there were online posters circulating warnings not to come to Yuen Long and build Lennon Walls – named after the Wall that was soiled with John Lennon-inspired political graffiti in Prague – or "hacked" their hands and legs – the heads of several universities in Hong Kong issued a letter requesting students not to attend.  "They will have angry young people from different parts of Hong Kong, and the Triads can gather from all over Hong Kong, I'm worried, and ordinary people are worried," said Joseph Cheng, a retired professor of political science at City University in Hong Kong
Despite the warning, commuters who passed Tuesday evening at the same station on which the attack took place on Sunday had covered the walls, columns and railings with photos of the victims, photos of the attackers posing with their weapons, and hundreds of sticky notes Signs saying "Take Back Yuen Long". A group of volunteers who had learned online from the Wall had come to guard passers-by who were posting things there.
Kay To, 29, a protégé from Yuen Long, has made the people in this usually peaceful neighborhood think about their safety. their role as citizens and the responsibility of their leaders.
"You're starting to care," he said. "In Yuen Long, we may never have had a protest in those 100 years. There were many first times for Yuen Long. "