THEIR god is the dollar, their temple is the nightclub, and the holy trinity of their faith is power, money and sex. They are the territory's new material girls, so dazzled by Hong Kong's frenzied worship of the dollar they will sell themselves for an extra Hermes scarf. Each night just after 9 pm Tsim Sha Tsui's pavements suddenly teem with them - faces slashed with blood-red lipstick, bodies swathed in designer clothes - making their way into the area's numerous nightclubs to replace the younger, poorer, 'tea dance' girls and start the busy night shift. Police estimate there may be as many as 15,000. Most are in their late teens or early 20s. Most have respectable daytime jobs and, contrary to every stereotype of prostitution, most do not need the money. Gold credit card Suzy Wongs, they represent a phenomenon of prostitution perhaps unique in the world. 'This  is my year as a prostitute,' says 20-year-old Alice, her slim frame wrapped in a white Joyce evening dress, her long hair held with a Chanel clip. By day Alice earns $12,000 a month answering telephones for a well-known Central property company. By night she earns three to four times as much working as a hostess in the Grand Delight Karaoke Club. 'After this I will be a rich and powerful woman,' she says. 'After this people will not look down on me like they do my mother and father.' She waves a leatherette dice bowl in the air and her lace sleeve falls back to reveal the twin symbols of her trade: a Rolex watch of breathtaking value and a frayed elastic cord threaded with a numbered plastic disc. Her other hand is wrapped around the corpulent thigh of 'Ah Tong', a 40-ish businessman with a penchant for singing Endless Love and wearing gold ornaments on his black Gucci shoes. He is drinking Hennessy XO at $1,800 for a quarter bottle and paying $7.80 for every two minutes with Alice. By the end of the evening, Ah Tong and his three business clients, each with their own hostess, will pick up a tab of $10,000 to $12,000. It does not matter that Ah Tong is neither handsome nor courteous. In Mammon's temple there is just one commandment and Ah Tong knows it and knows that pious Alice knows it: respect thy sugar-daddy. So long as his American Express gold card works, Ah Tong's jokes are hilarious, his singing voice is star quality, his every word a drop of wisdom, his glistening giblet lips a temptation to kiss. He is a man of power; a girl just can't keep her hands off him. It is 2 am and Alice is drunk. Ah Tong has just agreed to pay the $800 bar fine to take her from the club. They snuggle together in a picture of love. Yet only moments before, when Ah Tong and the club's mamasan were negotiating her price, it was a different story. Protocol demanded that Alice retire to the locker room and an intense, businesslike air settled over the velveteen couch. 'You want her?' the mamasan asked. 'Her face is OK,' Ah Tong said, twisting his gold signet ring, 'but she is a bit thin. Don't you have anyone with bigger ... er ... you know what I mean?' 'She is bigger than you think; it is just the dress she is wearing,' the mamasan said. 'And anyway, she has very good character. Good fun girl. She will do everything you like.' Outside the Grand Delight, Ah Tong and Alice make private and totally legal negotiations. 'Sex is $1,200 for one time; $3,000 all night,' she says, and they take a taxi to a no-tell love hotel in Kowloon Tong. The room costs $470 for a night. It is cheaply furnished with all the trashy trappings of luxury as well as an oval bed, pornographic television channel, his 'n' hers toothbrushes and 'wrapped for hygiene' pink and blue flip-flops. They shower separately, Ah Tong last. Before he climbs drunkenly into bed he flicks a red switch on the headboard and the bed starts to undulate electrically, the mattress rising and falling, its plastic under-sheet rustling. The next evening Alice tells all about how the electric bed made her feel nauseous and she had to break off the act in order to be sick in the pink en-suite toilet next to the pink heart-shaped Jacuzzi. 'But the client didn't mind. He waited. Smoked a cigarette. Continued later.' Ah Tong had opted for the $1,200 short-stay deal and that suited Alice just fine. 'I prefer to go back to my home in Western. That way I know where I am - I can change and make up for work. I have to start at 9 am.' She blows a blue stream of YSL cigarette smoke: 'I hate being a prostitute. If my parents found out they would be ashamed. I hate selling myself but it is the only way I can get a lot of money, and if I don't have money nobody will ever respect me. I could stay working for [the property company] all my life, but what is the point of that? No one respects an office girl. Hong Kong people only respect money.' The words 'money' and 'respect' crop up in Hong Kong's karaoke bars more often than a Canto-pop song. Alice is obsessed with it. 'Good clothes and jewellery are very important. I know every make of watch that every hostess in the club wears,' she says. Astonished, I point to a number of hostesses around the bar and ask her to name the make of watch each is wearing. 'Oh, that Mei-mei. She has Gucci from her regular client. Very rich man. Oh, that Mandy. She has Chopard. That Bo-bo, she has Cartier with one diamond ...' For many young women, the decision to supplement or abandon their daytime jobs for hostess club 'public relations' work involve little soul-searching. 'It is an easy way to get money,' Dannie says. She is 22 and a stunner. By day she works as a perfume counter salesgirl in Causeway Bay and takes home about $10,000 a month, but now she only keeps the job for appearances' sake. 'I tell my grandmother that I get discounts from the store and that is how I get all my clothes,' she says. Dannie started working for karaoke bars in January, after spending Christmas at a resort in Thailand with a group of girlfriends. 'I went a bit mad and spent $12,000 on my credit card. We stayed in big hotels and ate at expensive restaurants. So when I got back I was broke. Another girl at the department store told me she worked in a karaoke bar and made a lot of money. I decided I would do that for a couple of weeks to pay off my debt. But it was good fun and good business, so I stayed.' Dannie says she never sleeps with more than 10 clients a month and never with anyone she doesn't like. 'It is not so bad,' she says. 'I mean, I would go to karaoke anyway with my boyfriend and drink and then sleep with him. The only difference is that I don't get paid $1,500 every time I sleep with him. I still have lots of fun, meet interesting people and I am much more independent now.' The credit card bill has long since been paid off. But as the money comes in all those must-have items have multiplied. There has been another Thailand holiday plus regular trips to Joyce, Armani and Dickson Jewellery. There is always something to run up a new bill on. Lately, there have also been a couple of lines of ice. Patriarch Deng Xiaoping might call the phenomenon Teenage Rebellion With Chinese Characteristics. 'For a lot of girls it is the cool thing to be a hostess girl,' says a CID officer who works the area. 'Most of them are from the public housing estates, they have never had a lot of money. 'What are their prospects? They could get an office job easily enough, but with only $8,000 to $15,000 a month they are really out of the picture as far as living the Hong Kong life goes. They could get married to a rich man. But of course, the best place for them to meet a rich man is in a hostess bar. 'They enjoy singing and drinking and looking seductive. Even when they are not working as hostesses they will usually spend their leisure time in another karaoke bar. Also, people nowadays don't look down on prostitutes so much. A poor woman is much lower on the social scale than a rich prostitute. These girls know that,' the officer says. SINDY has just had her second abortion in eight months. Unlike the vast majority of the night shift hostesses, she comes from a rich family. In the daytime she is a personnel assistant for a record company executive and has a special reason for becoming a prostitute. A friend of hers says it is because her father has no time for her. This, of course, is a common complaint among Hong Kong Chinese women but for Sindy it has unusual symptoms. As a karaoke hostess she sleeps with a lot of older men. The friend says: 'Every time she sleeps with an older man, she says it is as if she were sleeping with her father.' But what if her father were to walk into the bar where she works? Or her boss? 'Very few girls who have daytime jobs work in the big Tsim Sha Tsui East clubs like Bboss,' the CID officer says. 'They won't take the risk of bumping into associates from work or friends or relatives. They prefer to work the smaller, lower class clubs around Austin Avenue and Jordan Road.' Nightclubs in this area are smaller, dimmer, nastier. The neon signs blaze as big and brightly; the names - Dream House, Golden Light, Happyland - promise the same escapism. But the lavish stairways of places like the Grand Delight give way to scummy steel elevators. The elaborate fountains and fish-ponds are reduced to slimy-green aquariums. The trinity of sex, money and power are still the principles of faith but they are expressed more crudely, more brutally. Sex is often available on the premises. Each of the private booths are equipped with a roll of toilet paper. Yip Pui-kei personifies the savage human values that lurk beneath the glitzy surface of karaoke nightclubs. He is 18 years old, a triad member and a hostess leader at the Kam Lung (Golden Dragon) Nightclub in Jordan Road. It is his job to recruit and keep girls at the club. The tools he uses are the dark side of Hong Kong's trinity: theft, rape and humiliation. When he met Edith, a 17-year-old hostess working for the nearby Tak Hing Nightclub, he promised her more money and a better life if she joined the Kam Lung and brought some girls with her. He bought her a couple of meals, flirted with her and made a fuss of her. Edith, whose only family was her dying 90-year-old grandmother, immediately warmed to him. In an interview with the police he described their love-making on the evening they first met. His tone is chilling: 'After we arrived at the Tai Tung Hotel [in Kowloon City], I said to Edith that I wanted to f*** her. Edith did not say anything. After I had entered the room with her, I took off my clothes and Edith took off hers ... Edith's expression showed that she seemed to be enjoying it very much. She did not resist me. I did not put on a condom ...' They emerged from the hotel the next day with Edith holding Yip's arm and calling him husband. Soon she would find out she was no more important to him than any strip of toilet paper clients might use in the private booths. Three days later Edith had failed to recruit more girls. Yip's attitude changed. He said he had wasted $2,000 on her, so she should pay him back $4,000. Yip and some heavies stole her identity and bank cards, and tried to make her open her bank safe-deposit box. When she said she had forgotten the safe's code, her 'husband' began a savage process of violence, brutal rape, degradation and sexual humiliation that was to last for 48 hours. When she cried and screamed and begged for mercy, she was told to shut up and get used to it - she was being prepared to work in a brothel. Yip rounded up a gang of 14 friends and abducted Edith, taking her to a one-bedroom holiday home on Cheung Chau. Stripping her naked, they threw her on to the bed then pinned her arms and legs across the sheets, decorated with smiling hopping bunny rabbits. 'Then I went into the kitchen to sharpen sugar canes,' Yip told the police later. 'which were given to Ah Bun, who poked the sugar canes into the private parts of Edith ... I could see from her face that she was in agony ...' Several other men began playing a card game, sam kung. Later, while everyone watched, Edith was ordered to perform oral sex on the losing player. Afterwards, she was beaten again. Then, one by one over the next two days, at least 14 men went into the bedroom once, twice or three times each and raped or sexually assaulted Edith. 'As an example of human values, it is the most depressing case I have come across in five years as a prosecutor in Hong Kong,' said John McMaster, the barrister who led the case against Yip. Sentencing has been delayed while psychiatric reports on Yip are prepared. 'But I don't think it will do much good,' Mr McMaster says. Only later does the penny drop: it won't do much good because Yip is not mad. Cruel, callous and evil, certainly, but how can any psychiatrist pronounce him clinically insane when he has merely behaved according to the rules of his world? When the dollar becomes god, everything done in his name is forgivable. Postscript: Since Dannie was interviewed for this story, all attempts to find her again have failed. 'She got worse and worse, we can't have girls on drugs in this club,' her former mamasan said. 'I heard she was working in some of the other clubs.' A former colleague said: 'I heard she was working some low class club in Mongkok. But I don't see her any more. What's the point - she's always out of it ...'