IF YOU DISTILLED the essence of every risque hens' night, every endorphin-fuelled shopping spree and every wild girls'-night-out you'd get close to the atmosphere at the inaugural Bid-for-a-Bachelor auction. Two hundred and fifty women are throwing restraint - and a few pairs of lacy knickers - to the wind as they slap down cold, hard cash for a date. The venue, the Helena May Club in Garden Road, Central, was designed as a safe refuge for single women from the ruffians and scoundrels on the streets when it opened in 1916, earning it the nicknames 'Menopause Mansion' and 'Virgins' Retreat'. But times have changed, and the 23 ruffians who venture out in front of this baying ecstatic pack subject themselves to a public display of Darwinism, as the forces of natural selection determine their market price. Have we stumbled into the heaving female bosom of Hong Kong's desperate and dateless? 'It's all just good fun for charity,' retort most of the women at the sold-out event. The same response comes from most of the men, who were whittled down from a group of 40 hopefuls by a selection committee. Backstage in the 'green room', men with numbers pinned to their backs do their best to down more cans of beer than the next. Deals are done to appear late in the order, hence procurring more time to read the crowd; should they be cocky and arrogant, the shy boy, the comedian, the lithe dancer or the plier of romantic-cliches? Or should they adopt what turn out to be the most popular look, the 'show the pecs, marathon-runner-triathlete hip-thrusting sex god'. A sea of expectant, shining female faces strain to see through the glass doors holding their men captive in the stalls. Designer Chris Yee, 32, bursts out to play his best card first: when he steps on to the runway he rips off his suit, stripper-style, to reveal his tight little Australian Rules football outfit. It had taken him four attempts to find a tailor to agree to make a suit without proper seams for the occasion. Meanwhile, Bobby Tse Wei-mun, 34, a partner in an advertising company, peeks through the glass anxiously. 'I am so nervous,' he puffs between deep breaths. Then he's off, with an encouraging ruffle of his hair by organiser Karen Young. Young, 34, a self-confessed 'smug-married-with-baby' who met her man in Hong Kong, was getting a little tired of all her single girlfriends complaining that they couldn't find a decent guy here. 'They would all say 'they're all either married or gay or they're scared of commitment, or they're just here for a two-year posting',' Young recalls. 'They were here for a good time and fast bucks, not to get hitched.' Inspired by a sitcom advertisement about a bachelor auction, she decided to help her friends out. The interior designer and mother of a four-month-old baby wasn't the least bit daunted that she'd never organised such an event before and enlisted four girlfriends to help. Charities selected (Children's Cancer Foundation and breast cancer care services), they hunted down willing men and sponsorship for prizes to be used on the first date. The crowd is pumping from the moment the first man steps on the stage. Women in their 20s to 50s are jumping, screaming, oohing and aahing, laughing at the gags, and eventually thrusting their hands in the air as auctioneer Ted Thomas struggles to keep track of their bids over the din. 'I have never been in such an oestrogen-charged room in the whole time I've been in Hong Kong,' says business owner Jan Henderson, laughing. The 47-year-old is disappointed they don't have more older guys on offer, especially when the older women have all the money to spend. The youngest guy is 23. Tax accountant Wendy Kok Wai-yee, 28, beats off the other contenders with a mighty $5,000 bid for Edwin Cheung Hon-yue, a 27-year-old business development manager for a seminar company. Cheung, who plays in a rock band, had just whipped the crowd into a frenzy singing Bon Jovi's It's My Life. 'She's got a boyfriend of nine years!' squeals one of her male friends as she runs on stage to hug her prize. She had taken over bidding when her girlfriend backed out at the last second, thrusting her arm in to the air only to land the catch herself. 'I just won't tell him,' she laughs when asked how she'll break this to her boyfriend. She doesn't sound completely serious, but Cheung is rather attractive. 'I don't have to pay for men,' sniff more than a few of the women, usually when it became clear they couldn't afford one any more. 'I'm sorry, but I ain't paying more than a month's rent for a man,' says TV producer Claire with a laugh as winning bids rocket from $1,600 to $6,000 to $12,000. She did bid earlier, plotting the perfect revenge against the guy who dumped her the day before. 'I'm in my mid-30s and all the good guys have already been taken, I always say to my girlfriends that I'm waiting for the divorces to start happening,' she jokes. 'But if you don't get into the Lan Kwai Fong bar scene you might as well stay home, frankly.' A blonde woman beckons her friends: 'This guy's got to $14,000, excuse me, you could buy a racehorse for that.' It turns out 'Mr $14,000', the top stud of the evening, was called in at the last minute because they needed some older guys. Forty-year-old Scottish bodyguard Bruce McLaren stood with his jaw almost on the floor as the bids skyrocketed around him. So why can't all these attractive, successful, professional single women find men of the same calibre willing to have a serious relationship? Several women in the crowd say they love their jobs, but are considering leaving Hong Kong because they would never meet a decent guy here. And it didn't help that their biological clocks were suddenly roaring to life just at the point at which their careers were getting interesting. Several Western women complain that the gender balance is out of whack in Hong Kong because Western men are attracted to petite and 'exotic' Asian girls. They say the attraction doesn't translate the other way. Most of the die-hards at the end of the night are Western. But earlier in the night there are many big enthusiastic groups of Chinese girls outbidding each other. 'This is hilarious, it's fantastic, I've never been to anything like this before. I'm on the phone calling my friends at work getting to back me with donations,' says Eva, 30. It's unfair, she says, to blame this dire dating situation on Hong Kong guys. 'I think it's hard to find good guys anywhere, in London or New York, all my friends there have the same issues.' Cecilia Leung Wing-ze, 35, agrees that she meets lots of men working in the hospitality industry. 'Hong Kong is a hard place to meet quality guys,' she agrees, 'it's always another meal, another date.' Unlike most of the men on offer, who say they have no trouble meeting great women in Hong Kong, Peter, a 35-year-old financial executive, admits it's hard to meet Ms Right because of the transient nature of the place. 'The most common thing to do is to go to going-away parties, so your network of friends constantly changes. And there also isn't very much interaction between the foreign and the local community, and that's really sad, I wish there was more.' Others simply pooh-pooh the romantic pessimists. 'Hong Kong is the easiest place in the world to be a single girl,' says technology manager Yvonne Macpherson, 35. 'Back in Scotland everyone's married, here if you want to stay at home you can, but if you want to go out here you get two or three hits before you even get to the bar. You get very choosy in Hong Kong,' she says. Unfortunately, the Michelle Pfeiffer-ish Macpherson might as well be a creature from another planet as far as the 249 other women in the room are concerned. Whatever their reasons for going, the women's enthusiasm was a huge success. 'I honestly thought we'd get about $1,000 a guy,' Young says two days later. 'It has been beyond my wildest expectations.' The friends raised more than $130,000 for charity. It turns out many were shopping on behalf of their girlfriends, exercising one of the oldest instincts known to womankind: matchmaking. 'When my friends knew I had the initial list of 40 eligible bachelors they were all saying 'can I have a look at the list?' And the bachelors were all saying, I can't believe there's 250 single women in Hong Kong. And I was just saying, 'Open your eyes, they're right in front of you'. ' Young has already been swamped by more men who want to put themselves up for auction. She's agreed to do it again on Valentine's Day next year - despite having to ward more than a few women away from her husband, architect Richard Hay, who was helping out on the night. Proof enough that for some women at least, the best way to find a man who is not commitment-phobic is to pinch one who's already committed.