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August 18, 2011

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Delving into treasure trove of CDs

The medium is the message," said Marshall McLuhan, and the medium is dusty, very. Among other things, fairy powder of the archaic fills the air at the Shijiu Jiancai Market (58 Yejiazhai Road).

The market is home to a swarm of electronic and media goodies, from plug adapters of all sorts to blank DVDs. Each stall has its own specialty but this isn't the place to go if you're looking for something specific. This is instead a scavenger's paradise, a place where the journey must be savored because the destination is uncertain.

I recommended the place to music hound DJ Cavia after our last encounter ("Super Sonic," Shanghai Daily July 29) when he said he had not bought CDs for years. We took the steep escalator up from the Changshou Road Metro stop and made the short walk to where the music is.

There were three vendors who specialized in CDs with about 50 CDs placed in each crate, and each vendor having a seemingly endless supply of crates.

The first thing we did was find a vendor to strike a deal with: We would buy CDs, but we weren't going to pay more than 5 yuan (78 US cents) for any for them. Negotiating prices in China can be a subtle art but this one is easy: set that price and at least one of the vendors will meet it. In multiple visits to the market, this has consistently worked.

Mind you, the selection is limited to only certain crates, as the sellers do generally separate the fare into genre and by artist. Yes, it's true: the middle-aged ladies who don't speak a word of English know they don't need to sell Radiohead and Madonna albums for less than 10 yuan (still a great deal). Maybe she's jamming to "Creep" and "Material Girl" when the market closes, but that speculation I'll leave to you.

I did though pry some interesting information about the market.

As you would expect, the CDs are part of an underground trade (read: untaxed) that are received in shipments at night. The most frequent customers are Chinese college students, and they generally go for the big pop hits and Brit-pop. A middle-aged vendor also mentioned that she has two very frequent expat customers: one who is always looking for country and western CDs, and another who is looking for music from British guitar god Eric Clapton.

If you're that Eric Clapton fan, you're in luck because Clapton was well represented during my most recent visit.

As well as large portions of the catalog from legendary artists like The Rolling Stones and David Bowie (see box).

Finish combing through the catalog and the merchant always pulls out another. This is a game of endurance I'm happy I've never won: I've always left the market without going through a seller's complete collection, meaning there are always more depths to explore.

Any amount of searching would not reveal any Shanghai-based music: here I stood in a crack in terrain of China, and none of its home-grown artists had a place next to the Brits, Americans, Japanese, and others.

In next week's column I'll explore the lack of available tangible good from Shanghai musicians and why a little more dust around here might be a good thing.

Classic CDs at Shijiu Jiancai Market

? The Rolling Stones - "Tattoo You"

? Sex Pistols - "Never Mind The Bullocks, Here's The Sex Pistols"

? Lightnin' Hopkins - "The Best of Lightnin' Hopkins"

? The Beastie Boys - "Paul's Boutique"

? David Bowie - "Space Oddity"


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