Oh, about 5-6 years ago i saw my first pile of cordyceps in Kangding, Tagong and throughout the Kham area of western Sichuan. Tibetans were slanging the dried worms on the ground for several RMB (like 10 - 20) for a pile of about 250 grams. I didn't buy any, because at the time I had no idea what cordyceps were.
Then I slowly learned about the unique symbiotic relationship between worm and fungus that creates a chemical compound revered by basically all ethnicities living around the Himalayan Mountains. By the time I realized how cool they were, a Sichuanese businessman, surnamed Li, had already turned the market onto its head.
When once a pile of these worms would cost a few RMB, now they jumped to 30rmb a piece or more for the fat ones. Sneaky Li and others like him went to Kangding, Danba and beyond and bought truckloads off the worms off of the Tibetan nomads that had been collecting them for years. Whoa! thought the nomads, this crazy Han is coming up here and paying fifty RMB per 250g!
The kids jumped out of their classrooms and headed up the slopes of the mountains where these worms can be found, old men and women whispered the location of secret worm-collecting spots into the ears of their trusted sons and daughters, tribes vied with each other to get the most worms to the Han as possible.
Kinda reminds me of that part in O Brother Where Art Thou when the Soggy Bottom Boys come running out of the "studio" and say:
"I dont mean to be tellin tales outside o school, but there's a man in there give ya 10 dollers to sing into his can!'
yeah and Pappy's response:
"Ya dumb cracker! I aint makin records, we're mass communicatin!
Here is a story in Asia Times which is interesting, because it is about the worm business on the Nepali and Indian side of the mountains ...
Nomads and crackers makin what they can while the Lis and Pappys of the world ball out of control mass communicatin to the ultimate consumers: the mighty middle class ...