Marieke ten Wolde's blog

Documentary photography, and other things interesting enough to bother you with

Tibet Travel log 18: Bring a wire stripper

with 3 comments

Why do nomads need electricity? When a Chinese tourist asked me, I was dumbfounded for a moment. First I wanted to say: ‘What do you need electricity for’, but then I realised many Han Chinese only ever see the ‘traditional Tibet’ in the magazines and on TV (very much like most people in the ‘West’). Tibet pictured as a the giant open air museum with high snowy mountains, clean air and nomads in traditional dress living a romantic life on green grasslands enjoying the sun and wild flowers with a black tents in perfect harmony with the surroundings. Taking that into account the question seemed a little less odd.

All that traditional stuff is still there, but in the eastern parts of the Tibet it is increasingly hard to find a black tent, people quite often prefer the factory made tents that are more waterproof, and they often have solar panels outside their tents for electricity. I have seen TV sets powered up with these, but mostly it is used for a few light bulbs and to charge the mobile phones.

In Eastern Tibet there are only few families left that lead a nomadic life the whole year round. Most families have their winter homes in the lower valleys where the yaks graze in the cold months and many valleys now have electricity. Some families still prefer the solar panels as it is a lot cheaper than the metered power but power from the grid also allows for a fridge, and sometimes even and electrical stove and some electrical appliances like a mixer for making butter-tea.

Thus the concrete electricity poles are everywhere. Some tourists (Chinese and westerners alike) complain they are ugly and destroy the beauty of the landscape, the Tibetans say there are so many and that they are spaced so closely together because the pole manufacturer is a family member of the party official deciding over the project funds. Sichuan is known for corruption on infrastructure projects so that could be true.

That electricity is wide-spread does not mean everybody has gotten used to it, I will never forget the old lady that tried to burn some waste on an electrical stove: I now know incense still works and smells nice, but plastic just stinks. And there are all the warning and instruction posters attached to the walls picturing how to avoid dangerous situations, situations quite clearly present in the next room which made me chuckle but also left me slightly worried when I had to sleep in such a room. Especially as it seemed that the wiring in the houses is under perpetual repair and there is always the strange burning plastic smell if another piece of wire has to be burned clean to be reconnected to another piece of wire.

I have already been told by some friends to bring a wire stripper next time, apparently these are hard to find.


Written by Marieke ten Wolde

February 21, 2013 at 13:22

3 Responses

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  1. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks!

    Russel Ray Photos

    April 7, 2013 at 18:05

  2. Your posts are so very interesting to read, and your photo’s give so much information about the Tibetan people. Many thanks,

    D. A. Hartley

    February 27, 2013 at 02:31

  3. […] . I should have posted this photo of the perfect yellow room as an example of creative wiring in my last blog. […]

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