Quite what will be going through the minds of the dour Sentosa ticket collectors next weekend is anyone's guess, as thousands of gays and lesbians converge on Singapore for Nation 04, on the eve of the city state's sombre Independence Day celebrations. The Singapore government, not known for its tolerance towards homosexuality, will again profit from what is, arguably, the biggest dance party of its kind in Asia. In its fourth year, Nation has become a big-ticket item for Singapore tourism, estimated to generate about S$10m (HK$45.2 million) for the island state. Of the expected 8,000 partygoers, 2,500 will fly in from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and Australia, as well as North America and Europe. Organisers say that, based on past parties and market research, these visitors, per capita, spend more than 10 times the national average. That probably explains the irony that Singapore, where male homosexuality is still a crime, is playing host to hordes of homosexuals. The main party is on the government-owned island of Sentosa. The brainchild of Stuart Koe, founder of fridae.com, a Hong Kong-based gay and lesbian webzine, Nation has doubled in size annually since its inception in 2001. It has expanded this year to encompass an informal Nation Arts Programme - which includes the plays Mergers and Will, Top or Bottom, Mardi Gras and The Revenge of the Dim Sum Dollies, and three art exhibitions, Red + White = Pink, Erotica and Private Edge. 'More and more major advertisers are waking up to the tremendous potential of the gay community as one with high disposable income and trend-setting power,' Koe says. 'We are confident ... this trend will explode in the next three to five years as more Asian soc- ieties liberalise, and marketers get more savvy.' He ticks off some of the big-name sponsors: Cathay Pacific, Subaru, Motorola, Moet et Chandon, Heineken, Conrad Centennial and Singapore Intercontinental. Nation 04 kicks off with the Military Ball (Saturday, 10pm-5am), at Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre. The dress code is strictly military, although the organisers point out it's against the law to wear uniforms belonging to public servants in Singapore. The outdoor Fountain Garden on Sentosa hosts the main Nation 04 (Sunday, 11pm- 5am), with patrons requested to dress in red and white to honour Singapore's national day. Nation is flying in some top DJs: Sawa from Japan and George from Singapore for the Military party; David Sung of Taiwan and Billy Carroll from the US for the main event; and Leonard T, of Singapore, and Australia's Paul Goodyear for the closing party, at Zouk Club on Monday (11pm-5am). There'll be a smattering of Caucasians at Nation 04, but it's an Asian party, which Koe says helps promote 'a positive image of what an Asian gayboy or lesbian is. They don't get that at Mardi Gras or the White Party. Here, dark hair and Asian is the norm.' Singapore is fuelling hopes for Hong Kong, which is trying hard not to be left behind, although the lack of a suitable venue and run-ins with the police are frustrating organisers. Sanctuary, held in early May at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, was a relatively small affair - about 500 tickets, sold mainly by word of mouth, with hundreds turned away at the door. Party organiser Patrick Sun says the event has potential. He recently told OutTraveller he hopes Hong Kong can become a that gay mecca, but for now he's working on convincing the authorities he can keep things under control and that big party events mean big bucks for tourism. 'Eventually, we want this to be like Sydney Mardi Gras,' Sun was quoted as saying, referring to an event that has attracted 20,000. But in case anyone gets the idea that Singapore has really changed, last month the Film Appeals Committee of the Board of Film Censors upheld a ban on the Taiwan coming-of-age movie Formula 17, even with an M18 rating. 'It conveys the message that homosexuality is normal, and a natural progression of society,' the committee said in justification of its decision. Still, that's a message that is unlikely to faze partygoers at Nation 04. A three-party ticket costs S$100 (HK$455); S$50 for18 to 21-year-olds. Cathay Pacific is promoting special fares. See www.fridae.com/nation for details.