Custom Tent Shops in Yushu

On the road leading out of Yushu there is a plaza where a number of shops specializing in the fabrication of event tent. These tents offer a number of different formats of vaguely rectangular tent structures which are made from fabricated steel pipes, skinned in a heavy vinyl fabric with stenciled symbols, often the 8 auspicious buddhist symbols. I have seen these tents used for recreational purposes, and I have seen these tents used to augment existing architecture. I have seen these used especially in and around festival locations. But there construction is always similar.

There are several elements surrounding their construction that interest me. The format is highly customizable in and around the relative proportion of the different elements. This seems highly strategic in that their product is scalable to the constraining financial factors or intended purpose of the purchaser. The outer decoration may also be specified as they are built of reusable stencils. Hazarding an assumption but I feel there is little risk of decision paralysis on the part of the buyer as there is a general conformity in the way that they are shaped and decorated. They are easily assembled or disassembled and thus they may be fabricated in public space, empty plazas etcetera. The product does not require warehousing, just the reduction, stacking and folding of its constituent parts.

I love the simplicity of the product versus its eventual spatial impact. A business can be built out of a very small space containing a chop saw, welder and a few sewing machines and you are more or less in the festival tent design/build business. Assembly takes place outside (I’m not sure who owns or manages the sidewalks and plazas.) and the work can be assessed and modified on the fly. It should be said that the shops I saw seemed to be focusing on a fairly low level of craft, in that the décor was spray paint over stencils on vinyl fabric. These are practical structures versus more highly crafted versions which would have sewn fabric for decoration on natural fibers.


Rooftop Gardens of Wuhou District, Chengdu

Wuhou Temple Street is a busy commercial area that features the historic Wuhou temple as its central attraction. It is also home to a concentration of commercial activity for the local Tibetan population who are selling various articles including clothing, medicine, media and perhaps most frequently, Buddhist miscellany including small statuary and thankas, the elaborate scroll paintings depicting various Buddhist scenes, symbols or deities.

One thing I particularly like about this area is the use of rooftop gardens to create green space within a very dense urban corridor. These rooftop gardens give the appearance that the city is nestled into the humid forests that predated it and contribute an incredible sense of integration with the landscape, in spite of the 14+ million people that call Chengdu home. One can imagine the buildings sprouting from the very asphalt and lofting the previous landscape up some arbitrary number of floors. The rooftop gardens seem to be spilling over the edge of the buildings, subsisting on their obscured interiors and threatening to overtake the orthogonal logic of their plantings. Up close, or rather, from the perspective of the rooftop, these are in reality very well maintained gardens, quite independent of their buildings, that create privacy, seating, and shade allowing the buildings’’ inhabitants to step away from work without venturing into the continuous river of sightseers. In that regard it seems to function like a type of retreat, an undulating natural fortress against the intruding tourists, taxis, bikes, lights and jumbled noise below.

From a practical standpoint, I hope that they make a small dent in the emissions and exhalations. Certainly the evaporation and shade they produce creates a natural cooling effect in a place where air conditioners are often run at purely symbolic levels. And it is not great stretch to imagine the incremental increase in the collective sense of peace these rooftop gardens create for their users. Conversely, if you are  one of those unlucky enough to inhabit the pedestrian sphere, they offer a more restful plane towards which to aspire.

Hike Over Hei Ma He, Qinghai Lake


My guide, Namhla studied classical Tibetan literature and now works leading tours and acting as a research assistant to researchers from all over.

The grasslands are dotted by tents of the nomads. The white tent is fairly universal now among Amdo nomadic herders. Its been in use for decades replacing the yak wool tents, as a more portable and waterproof option, though I doubt any of them can boast a hundred years of use like their woolen predecessors.

We met this woman who was gathering wood on her motorbike. Basically you’ve got to be a little bit badass to ride on this terrain. Some of the slopes we saw with tread marks in the dirt made me wonder how they got up or down in one piece. I was even more amazed when, after the bike failed to start and I volunteered to try to give it a rolling jump start, I discovered it had no functioning front breaks. 

Yaks..being yaks.

This Is Not Real

As far as I can tell this was just an awkward photo op, placed here in case the field of youhuacai set against Qinghai Lake wasn’t doing it for you alone. It should NOT be added as a type to the compendium of nomadic dwellings that encircle the lake.



Tibetan breakdancers, AZ Crew, were very gracious hosts, dragging me to see traditional tents and a middle school performance, and teaching me how to say those things you should never say in any language. Pictured here waiting for burgers.

Yak Wool Tents in Zeku, Qinghai Province

This is a thirty year old yak wool tent currently being used as a small restaurant. Apparently that is not old by black tent standards. The poles are wooden and the ropes are also woven yak wool. Apparently these change shape considerably depending on the weather, tightening in the cold and loosening in the heat or rain. But they are also easily adjusted withe the tensioning lines. 

A detail shows the various colors of yak wool. Tents are mended and maintained and apparently take a considerable time to make. They may increase in size over time as new strips are added.

 The owner shows me how the strips are hand stitched at the seams.