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Tibetan Luozang multilingual digital electronic pocket gadget - a product review
By Email[Monday, October 05, 2009 12:16]
Multilingual Dictionary, PDA application, MP3 player and E-Book

by Dhawa Dhondup (Acharya)

Out of land of snows comes a snow-white digital electronic pocket gadget, produced by a Lhasa-based Tibetan enterprise Tibet Luozang Digital Science & Technology Ltd.

The handheld device features an impressive array of edutainment functions: 34 dictionaries (Tibetan, Chinese, T-C, C-T, T-C-English); PDA (Palm Digital Assistant) application; database of language, cultural and historical entries in Tibetan and Chinese; trilingual WordPad; MP3 player, with USB interface with personal computer; and games.

In a world of smartphones, iPods, second generation iPhone and convergent devices this Tibetan gadget may fare wanting in many ways; even by the genre of handheld electronic language tools, its monochrome displays with no backlight, and a few of its asserted functions needing upgrading, can hardly compare with the numerous flashy models in other languages.

But, more than catching up with technology, it is about not losing our Tibetan identity while pursuing modernity. The appeal of this Tibetan handheld gadget is its Tibetan-ness. There is truly a Tibetan keyboard, perhaps for the first time, and the default displays are in Tibetan.

In its Tibetan-English twin keyboard, wherever possible, the precedence is given to Tibetan, the same is true of all its marketing literatures and manuals in Tibetan and Chinese (English add-on was released a week ago). When its MP3 player is pressed, the factory-installed 17 Tibetan songs are matched by lyrics in Tibetan script streaming across the screen. Embossed on the cover of the gadget is the trademark 'Losang' in a stylized Tibetan script hovering on the pin yin 'Luozang'.

The feeling is that you are holding a Tibetan gadget, a Tibetan hardware, a product of indigenous innovation of strong yet very subtle native aspirations.

For a device of immense educational and patriotic significance it came as a surprise to hear from the contact person at Luozang's that although the gadget was released last November, nearly a year ago, it has so far been marketed outside Tibet only through individual orders and postal despatch, accounting for its rare appearance within the diaspora community.

Upon receiving my Luozang a week ago, directly from Lhasa by courier - after an instant money transfer and the courier taking less than a week - when I called Lhasa to enquire about troubleshooting some of the games featured on the gadget, I was told that the device's principal features at this stage are its electronic dictionaries. In their Tibetan marketing literature, as such, the gadget is advertised as, "The Great Tibetan Digital Electronic Dictionary." This, when added with its appended minipedia database of cultural and historical entries, stands to reason for focusing their claim of the device as an "E-Book."

Packed into this Luozang pocket device are all the major contemporary Tibetan dictionaries (published inside Tibet) and Tibetan-Chinese dictionaries. Also included are some 10 major Chinese dictionaries, Tibetan-English-Chinese dictionaries and English-Tibetan-Chinese dictionaries. The sheer volume of data input (when there is not yet a text scanning for Tibetan) and accessibility to that input on one's palm, makes Luozang a very relevant and greatly useful language and cultural device.

The route of technology for Luozang's is obviously via the Chinese (who in turn would have, most likely, taken from the Japanese); this is a small problem for users who cannot read Chinese, as deeper into the device the default language reveals itself into Chinese: the settings and changing them are all in Chinese. More difficult words, for example, are given only their Chinese counterparts in the English-Tibetan-Chinese dictionaries. In its English dictionary entries, often there are obscure (probably defunct by now) engineering institutions and company names of far away Nippon!

Taken from the Chinese are their current penchant for dressed-up sale-packaging: Luozang comes in a yak-horn coloured pouch (now also in trend and use by many photographic and digital gadget companies), framed inside an ochre polyform casing, and swung in a paper carry-bag of Tibetan maroon and yellow hue and patterns.

In the annals of Tibetan technological evolution Luozang Digital Electronic Dictionary will be listed along the host of greatly beneficial innovations in recent times: Bur Yig Braille system, Tibetan in Unicode (Monlam, TCRC, Himalaya), Thupten N Chakrisar's Daily [Tibetan] Buddhist Prayers in iPhone/iTouch application, and mobile-phone texting in Tibetan (it was being marketed in Tibet last year, working only on local SIM cards).

Luozang is being retailed at 1200RMB (around Rs12,300).
website: www.louzang.com or contact 86-13908912996.

(This independent review is written with caution towards political sensitivities inside Tibet. Dhawa Dhondup Acharya can be contacted at dhawad@unwired.com.au)

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