One of the many blessings of living in Shanghai is the opportunity to see the best films and television serials from around the world for less than a single US dollar. Notwithstanding the protestations of the central government about protecting intellectual property rights, vendors sell pirated CDs at stalls all over the city, for seven to eight yuan each. You can buy programmes from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Europe and the United States - including the latest Hollywood movies and US television series. Most are of excellent quality and are sub-titled in Chinese, English, French, Spanish and sometimes other languages. My favourite vendor is a lady in her mid-20s from Sichuan province, who has a stall outside a fast-food restaurant. She keeps a watchful eye out for men in blue uniforms - the inspectors of the Industrial and Commercial Management Bureau, responsible for the retail sector - but she says they rarely bother her. If they do, she and her associates have an alternate store, down an alley nearby, in an unmarked room, where the same titles are available. The advantage of having a regular vendor is that she will exchange discs that have a fault, and arrange orders for you. In the last six months, I have become addicted to two American serials - West Wing, about the White House, with Martin Sheen as a president far more entertaining than George W. Bush, and The Sopranos, about a Mafia family in New Jersey. My vendor thoughtfully checks on how far I am in the story and orders the next episodes, to ensure that I am not left short of a fix. Another favourite is the work of a Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski, whose films describe the life of ordinary people in the Communist era before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. I find many of his characters here in Shanghai. They are not among the young and educated, who are prospering in the economic boom, but among the old and middle-aged, who live on meagre pensions after lives spent at jobs and places they did not choose. The glitzy wealth all around them is a bitter reminder of the life they might have had. All the foreigners I know buy the CDs, including diplomats and people who work for multinationals. By day, they wear business suits and call on the government to combat piracy and shut down the underground factories. By night, they change into turtleneck sweaters and jeans and buy their favourite films for the weekend.