The best shopping in all of China may well be just outside this city rarely visited by tourists in the Qinghai province. While foreigners here are few, many Chinese come to visit the Taersi Lamasery, a Tibetan Buddhist temple.
The road approaching the lamasery is lined with tiny stalls filled with old and new items of the Tibetans. You can buy wooden saddles, woven saddlebags, old jewelry in silver, coral and ivory, and extraordinary weavings.
Outside the stalls run by Tibetan traders hang the coats the Tibetans themselves wear and that are rarely available for sale: huge brown or olive padded coats faced in bright colored stripes, or the unlined purple felt coats Tibetans wear when the weather is warmer.
It's clear where some of the Japanese designers got their ideas. The Tibetans often wear just one sleeve of their coat, leaving the other to dangle at their side. "We use the sleeve to put under our faces when we sleep," explained a young Tibetan man. The sleeves are remarkable as well in their length -- often six to eight inches longer than the fingertip. As one Tibetan woman explained, "They keep my hands warm in a very cold climate." Women's coats are frequently made of black corduroy, lined in white lamb.
The road to the lamasery provides a parade of Chinese minority costumes, including those of a Moslem group called the Wei, whose women, even as young girls, wear cut velvet hoods.
Tibetan men wear marvelous felt hats with crowns and brims bigger than Stetsons. Made for them in a factory in Tientsin, the hats have a snap that turns up the brim on the left side and a leather strap that goes under the chin.
In town in Xining, the local teen-agers are beginning to pick up on a style already popular in Peking. Those who wear glasses display a sticker with the brand name on one of the lenses -- the Chinese answer to Vuarnets.