Lin Page 10

Yao Ming, he agrees. He knows nothing of the NBA, or the Houston Rockets, or Yao Ming, but he can say Yao Ming and smile.

He's doing very well, Mr. Liu continues. He's developing his inside game. He pronounces inside game in English, as a broadcaster might, with a touch of southern twang.

He always had it. He always had it.

Mr. Liu chuckles, and it is an alarming sight and sound. He rips open a fresh pack of cigarettes, offers one to him. The young man hates cigarettes, and accepts one without a pause. Mr. Liu is already lighting his, with the careless alacrity that is the hallmark of the chain smoker. He has a plastic green lighter, a

snapshot of a naked brunette on the side, and he proffers its flame.

Seconds pass, exhalations of smoke are exchanged. The young man knows that it is his turn -- conversation has been made, a cigarette has been offered. Now what?

Then I'll tell Mr. Allen you'll be in touch? he asks.

Mr. Liu performs the enviable trick of balancing the end of the cigarette on the tip of his lips, hands-free, as he says: How'd you like to make double the amount you're making now?