The market economy slowly crept onto the plateau in the 90’s as markets began to explode in China. In the old days, goods were scarce and hard to come by, and nomads were used to relying on themselves for food and clothing. They ate meat and diary products from the animals they herded, and made their chubas from sheepskins, which they might embellish with a fur border and fashioned their boots from yak skins.
Brocade, from China, or Tibetan woolen cloth woven by farmers, were prized items used to make garments made to last generations. Tea and tsampa were also traded, more often if the nomads were closer to farmer or trading posts.
In the 80’s they bartered brightly printed cotton cloth, cheap shoes and thermoses for butter and meat.
Now families have shrunk and time has become money. No one makes shoes or even clothing. The nearby towns are full of shops that sell cloth, ready made clothes and shoes of every size or color.
Now, the town peddlers know there is a ready market for their goods at Norlha. They also know that on the 10th of every month, 120 people get paid and they come in in a truck and set up shop on the plain in front of the workshop, playing loud music to attract the children who have finished school at 4 PM and an hour more for their parents when they finish work. On Saturdays, a “Blue Camel” ,the blue three wheeler that is now the prime transport mode on the Plateau, comes laden with children’s wear, also playing loud music. Norzin is usually the first to spot it and comes barging into the office with a two or three friends, most probably Manager’s daughters, asking for shopping money. Dechen asks her how much a pair of pants cost, multiplies it by three and off they go.