THE most honest moment in their relationship, Bella realised later, was when he raped her. That was on their first date. After a Kentucky Fried Chicken supper and dancing in a Wan Chai disco, Victor, a 37-year-old Nigerian, took her back to a hotel room in Chungking Mansions and undressed her like a starving man unwraps a chocolate bar. And after it was all over and he held her in his arms and told her how much he loved her and how he was sorry he had got rough but he couldn't control his passion for her, she decided to forgive him. How could she do otherwise? In the five years Bella, 37,had lived in Hong Kong, her sentimental Filipina heart had wanted more than anything else to be in love. To have a honey to care for, make plans with and dream about during those lonely hours from Monday to Saturday: ironing the shirts of another woman's husband and rearing children who are not her own. So when two months later Victor's tourist visa expired and he asked Bella to lend him enough money to get started in South Korea she said: 'Oh darling, of course', and lent him $17,000. The only thing that eased the heartbreak when Victor failed to return the money was his friend, Toby, 36. Toby was a real support. They developed a 'nice communication'. He picked her up from church on Sundays, took her to lunch (she paid) and then back toa Chungking Mansions' hotel room ('a really nice one - en-suite bathroom and everything') to do the things that lovers do. So when, three weeks after they started their affair, Toby said he was planning to move to Taiwan and needed $10,000 to get started, Bella said: 'Oh darling, of course', and gave him the last of her savings. To get back at Toby, when he also kept her money, Bella started seeing his friend Tembo, 42. They became really close. So, when Tembo suggested they start a garment export business together, Bella gave her passport to the bank, borrowed $20,000 and handed it over. Three months later, Tembo announced the business had gone bankrupt and returned just $5,000. In the ensuing argument he let slip something astonishing: she was just his 'Sunday afternoon girl' in a schedule that included a 'Tuesday girl', a 'Friday girl' and a 'Sunday morning girl'. 'He would leave the bed of another Filipina in Block E of Chungking Mansions at 10.30 am, go downstairs, pick me up and take me to another room in Block B,' said Bella. 'Sometimes he would leave me in the room a long time, saying he was going to buy cigarettes - now I know he was really saying goodbye to the other woman.' Things got worse when Toby returned unexpectedly from Taiwan. He bad-mouthed Bella for bad-mouthing him and snatched her handbag to pay for his loss of face. Bella also met Toby's new girlfriend, who, it turned out, had been seeing Toby the whole time she was seeing Toby, and who had also lent him money ($6,000) and had also not been paid back. Only her reluctance to learn from experience marked Bella's story as exceptional. 'Love is blind,' she said, almost with pride. All around the table, at the Mandarin Oriental Coffee Shop, black-haired heads nodded in sympathy. Each one of the six women seated with Bella had a similar story to tell. Personal details varied, but the theme was the same: boy (near-broke, Nigerian businessman) meets girl (flush, Filipina maid); savings are savaged, love betrayed. As word got around that I was interested in writing about their experiences, the number of women willing to come forward multiplied. Within three weeks, I had met 14 women and spoken on the telephone to several more. Diana, 32, met Peter, 32, in Chungking Mansions at 11.15 am, October 5, 1991. She is a tenacious diarist. Like many Filipinas in Hong Kong, she fills the long evenings recording and pouring over every detail of her weekly day off. The best section is devoted to her marriage to Peter in January, 1992 at City Hall. The wedding reception was held in a hotel room at Chungking Mansions. Catering by the Africa Club take-away consisted of curried chicken and rice served in polystyrene trays with plastic spoons. Five or six friends toasted the happy couple with cans of Tsingtao. For their honeymoon, Peter rented a luxury hotel room in Chungking's upmarket Block B. Diana paid. 'Everything is over quite quickly,' Diana wrote in her diary, 'as I had to be back home with my employers by 10.30 pm. But I am so happy. So in love.' For fear that her marriage might affect her job, she didn't tell her British employers. On the way home that night, she took off the $700 ring Peter had bought her and put it in her pocket. One month later, Peter announced he was going to Russia to start a business. He needed $20,000. 'I thought it over for a week,' said Diana. 'I know a lot of women who have given money to their Nigerian boyfriends and never got it back. But I thought: 'Thisman has made a commitment to me, I know he loves me, he will come back.' So I gave him the money - it was everything I had saved.' She never saw him again. As Asia develops into the globe's gold-rush boomtown, an increasing number of men from poor Commonwealth countries are using Hong Kong as a stepping-stone to work abroad. Diplomatic ties with Hong Kong guarantee a three-month tourist visa. Once here, theirobjective is to earn as much and spend as little as possible, living in the cheapest accommodation, and eating the cheapest food. In March this year, four Nigerian 'businessmen' living in Chungking Mansions were found to have malnutrition. Not surprisingly, Filipinas have become a 'must' on the tourist itinerary of many visiting Nigerian 'businessmen'. They are used as a ready source of money, information and sex. 'They prey on us,' said Marion Aglamis, 27, a maid who lived in Chungking Mansions for a month. 'They know that many Filipinas living in Hong Kong feel very lonely, that we have big hearts, love romance and support our men.' A growing number of deception cases involving Nigerian men and Filipina women are being reported, according to Tsim Sha Tsui divisional commander Ng Hon-kwan, who is responsible for policing Chungking Mansions. 'I am sure they are the tip of the iceberg,' he said, 'because in most cases the women have been reluctant - they feel very foolish.' In any case, he pointed out, the police were powerless to help. 'We deal with crime. We cannot be debt-collectors. Unless the women can prove they have been deceived about the identity of the man or his circumstances we can do nothing. To make matters more hopeless - most Filipinas come to us after their boyfriends or husbands have left Hong Kong. Unless they return we are helpless.' It is a blistering Sunday afternoon and Edgar, 35, is patrolling Kowloon Park. 'Flips love us,' he says. 'They love us because we are good talkers and good dancers.' His technique for picking up women is simple. 'If I'm hurrying, I pick out an oldish one. Go over, talk a little while, tell her how good she looks - you know talk her up and stuff. Tell her I'm here on business.' Telephone numbers are exchanged, future meetings arranged. 'The thing to do, the thing they love most, is to telephone when they're working. They love that. They just talk and talk - it's easy. You don't even have to pay attention - just go 'uh-huh, uh-huh, sure honey' every so often. You can do the whole seduction part on the telephone. So on the first date, man, no messing around - you're in.' The down side of all this extends well beyond losing money. 'The reason why I wanted to go on record is because I have seen too many women ruined by affairs with these people,' said Ms Aglamis. 'I have accompanied one close friend to the illegal abortion clinic in Chungking Mansions and seen many others pawn their passports in order to borrow money for their boyfriends.' The illegal clinic is on the 13th floor of the predominantly Nigerian Block E. It is managed by an old Chinese woman and staffed by a visiting male Chinese doctor. 'We were told of it by other Filipina women who have used it.' said Ms Aglamis. 'It is a horrible place. They have everything there - bed, harness, machines, surgical tools.' An injection to induce miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy costs $1,500. An operation to terminate more advanced pregnancies costs $2,800. Very pregnant women are referred to another illegal clinic in Mongkok. 'The irony is that when my friend wasdating this guy he would talk about 'us' and 'our life'. But as soon as she got pregnant it was 'your baby' and 'goodbye'.' The Filipinas who hang around Chungking, Rex and Neptune's discos have a joke about Nigerian men: 'What are their three biggest lies? 'I am a businessman', 'I love you' and 'I'll send the money on'.'