Tartan-clad Chinese pipers bring sound of Scotland to Olympic curling
Chinese bagpipers perform at the Beijing Winter Olympics Lillian SUWANRUMPHA 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 says 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, or the sheet, as they call it.

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 (10 miles) 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.

So he patiently waited until Jia scheduled a trip home.

"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.

When Jia returns home he takes the opportunity to give lessons to his Chinese pupils.

Little did Zhang know that word would get round and, in 2022, clad in tartan, he would be on duty at the Olympic Games.

"The organizing committee of the Games contacted us last October. Sometimes we have also been called by the British Ambassador in Beijing to entertain at receptions," he said proudly, his Chinese showing no hint of a Scottish accent.

Chao Luomeng is also from Beijing -- although he has actually been to Scotland.

He is a musician and is attracted to all things British. With his rock band, Egofall, he has played concerts in Glasgow.

He also learned about bagpipes on that trip and a couple of years ago he too started searching on the internet.

"I was very interested and I immediately started looking on the internet to find out how to learn," said Chao, who is also in his forties.

"There are fifteen of us and we come from all over China."

His bagpipe-playing pupils have done Jia proud at the Games.

And many Scots watching on TV around the world will be surprised to discover six Chinese pipers, in matching kilts, belting out "Scotland the Brave".

© 2022 AFP