BEIJING (AFP) – The piercing sounds of bagpipes reverberate in the cold air from men dressed in tartan kilts. But this is not Scotland, it’s the curling at the Beijing Winter Olympics, and Zhang Ali has never even been to Britain.
The Beijing-born publicist in his forties nevertheless said that he has a lifelong love affair with Scotland.
Together with five Chinese compatriots, all dressed in kilts, he has just performed Scotland the Brave before the Olympic curlers take to the ice.
The pipers are providing the live soundtrack at the curling at the Olympics in a nod to Scotland, the birthplace of the sport in the 16th Century.
Curling has stayed close to its roots – the unique granite rock for the stones is harvested on Ailsa Craig, about 16 kilometres west of the Scottish mainland.
Eight years ago, Zhang discovered that he really liked the sound the bagpipes made and so he turned to the Internet to find out how to play the unwieldy instrument.
He discovered that a Chinese businessman, Jia Xin, who divides his time between South Africa and China, gives lessons as a hobby.
“I really liked the sound and started looking for a way to learn to play the bagpipes by exploring the Internet,” Zhang told AFP at the Ice Cube, the venue where curling takes place at the Games.
He is one of 15 amateurs who come from all over China when Jia, who is part of a group of pipers in South Africa, travels back on business.
Little did Zhang know that word would get round and, in 2022, clad in tartan, he would be on duty at the Olympic Games.