Nomad solar makes the news
Today I ran across an article entitled “China’s nomads on energy’s cutting edge,” by Lenora Chu for the Christian Science Monitor (republished by USA Today here). I had seen some of this stuff in the flesh just a few weeks ago on my trip to Zhongdian.
A few weeks back I took a trip to Zhongdian that turned out to be more interesting than I initially expected (the area is now firmly on the beaten track) because of spending a bunch of time with some Tibetan guides and eco-tourism operators. One of them was a man named Tsepo, who, once the shop talk was over, was willing to put up with a lot of ignorant questions about his upbringing (raised in a nomadic family near the Gansu Sichuan border, left for India to be educated at the age of 16). I asked a question about payment/gifts when traveling in (very rural) majority Tibetan areas — this is a major issue in a culture that has a very strong ethic of hospitality to strangers but is increasingly burdened by tourists. Giving money to a Tibetan family in exchange for a stay can be inappropriate or outright insulting, but bringing gifts or needed supplies is acceptable and appreciated. So I asked him what kind of stuff he generally would bring to his family when he goes home (once or twice a year) and he mentioned, among other things, DVDs.
I was fairly surprised since he had just finished talking about how difficult it can be to actually FIND his family when he heads home for a visit, since they are still semi-nomadic. I asked how they managed to watch TV, and he explained the portable solar units. Later on, I found a huge supply in a store on Zhongdian’s main drag — can’t find the photos but I know I took some. These things are basically foldable solar panels the size of a large briefcase/small suitcase and are heavy as lead.
The CSM article focuses on one family through interviews with the female head of a semi-nomadic Kazakh household in Xinjiang province, and illustrates some of changes that electric power has brought to their lives:
“My favorite program is the international news, because I can find out what’s happening now,” says Sitkan, her face weathered from the rigors of nomadic life. “Before we had a TV, it would take months for us to find out about news. These are big changes.” She favors dramas and news programs in Uighur and her native Kazakh language, but after TV opened new worlds, she switched her children from the local Kazakh school to that of the Han Chinese. Her children will be educated in the language of China’s ethnic majority.
Tsepo also added another interesting tidbit of information on this point: with the solar generators, small TVs and satellite dishes that many nomads use, it is very easy to pick up international television programs from India and other neighboring countries — channels that are difficult for most Chinese to access. This means nomad kids on the Tibetan plateau are learning English from Indian TV even though some of them don’t speak a word of Mandarin Chinese. It also means they get a different picture of the world than those who rely on CCTV for news.
In some cases, local police come around and confiscate satellite dishes, but families quickly learned to hide them, and the isolated nomadic communities are pretty difficult to crack down on.
Just something to think about the next time you flip on your lightswitch…
Photocred to Shazia04