Sunday, June 05, 2011

Technology in Tibet

I've just returned from a three week visit to Tibet and as a watcher of technology and society there was much to catch my eye. (Note the SLA battery).

House tech

Tibet is now part of China and while it's still mostly a manual subsistence farming lifestyle for much of the population, the central government is investing heavily to drag it into a more modern way of life.

Everywhere outside of large towns you can see people in traditional dress, ploughing fields either by hand or with the help of a yak. Household water comes via irrigation style water courses and sewerage is non-existent. In fact, farms gather human manure along with other dung for crop fertilisation. (Note that yak dung is dried and then burned for heating).

Despite the stone-age dimension to life, there is a lot of technology on show.

Impressive hydroelectric schemes are in place and power has been distributed across the plains to even very small mud huts which get a power meter on the side.

Electricity tower

Where there isn't mains power (and even where there is), there's widespread use of solar power. The efficient evacuated tube hot water system is on every rooftop in Lhasa. Solar electric street lighting is used in villages.

Solar kit

A 10w solar kit including panel, charger, battery and a 12V compact fluorescent lamp sells for about AU$100. We saw these in use in several homes.

House solar

Large solar cookers that look like wide satellite dishes with a cooking pot at the focus. The sell for AU$200.

Solar cooker

Lower tech solar, in the form of simple green houses with plastic over metal spines, are new and popping up everywhere meaning that vegetables are available much more than in the past. (The best thing about traditional Tibetan food is said to be the view).

Amazingly there is almost 100% mobile phone penetration and on several occasions even monks were seen using mobiles, sometimes texting inside temples.

The most common type of shop, even in small villages, is a mobile phone store. Nokia is popular as are fakes (which don't work the same, but are highly functional).


There are lots of bicycles in a variety of useful configurations for single or multiple passengers and cargo carriage. On the motorised side about half of the scooters are electric and feature a removable battery pack.


The streets are full of recharging scooters during the day.

Scooter charging

Being very flat, Lhasa is a great place for cycling but the use of electric powered transport is very popular.

In Lhasa, the medium wave band is almost empty but FM has many stations including one in English that has Chinese lessons as part of the program. On short wave the BBC was easy to hear in the evenings along with deutche velle and one night I did hear a bit of radio Australia recognised by the waltzing Matilda chimes followed by the news theme.

Here's an interesting FM radio we saw in a few shops:

Fm radio

Radios with shortwave are widely available but people I asked didn't seem to be aware of what they might hear.


Many radios look somewhat retro, including audio cassette players, but in fact they often have the ability to play back from USB storage and have SD card readers.

Radios usb

As in the rest of china, the Internet is filtered but it seems to change day by day. The first time I tried to access my gmail hosted mail the browser bounced to the local baidu search page, but later in the trip this did work ok. I had no trouble using gmail via the exchange interface on iOS. Blogspot, Facebook and other useful domains just give a network error.

Here's a few more of the electric scooters:

Scooter umbrella

Delivering the post:


Batteries are often easily removable:


Like this:

Battery 2

Many have 48V systems:


Zai Zhong Wang:

Zai zhong wang

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Peter Hi..Sorry to be sending this on a page devoted to something else..i spent 2.5 years in Buddhist (Thera and Zen) and Benedictine monasteries and have the ignominious cahe of being propositioned by a very famous Lama's very miserable wife.Anyways i bought the Sony Loop seems to work in that the light goes on but thus far doesnt seem to make sweet fa to my pick up-ing of AM.Live now in Vancouver BC.Could i skpe you sometime please and ask directly what am doing wrong please? Email is

Again sorry to bother but am slightly flumoxed and you seem to be a ,man whom knows about well technology.

All good things

Simon (Fellows)