The Scots have always travelled to distant parts. From my own career in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, I know a fair bit about the Scottish planthunters and seed collectors who worked in China. My own particular hero is George Forrest, who worked in Edinburgh, and was sent out on several expeditions between 1908 and 1932 (when he died in China), mainly in Tibet and Yunnan. RBGE has a very important twinning agreement with the Kunming Botanic Institute, under which there’s an exchange of botanists and horticulturists with China every year. RBGE is also one of the editorial centres for the new Flora of China project (along with Beijing, Kew and Missouri).
These days the tourist traffic is increasing, and I suppose it was inevitable that we’d bump into fellow Scots in China. In Xi’an, before visiting the Terracotta Warriors, we came across this kenspeckle figure:
I discovered that he is a Paisley Buddy – so here we are, the Tartan Army about to inspect the guard.
Later, walking round Pit 1, we heard unmistakeably Scottish accents behind us, and discovered two Scottish couples, originally from Aberdeen. (And one of them a fellow writer!)
In Shanghai, we went to the beautiful Yu Yuan Garden, and met a couple from Edinburgh while we were browsing in the lovely little art shop.
The saying goes, “It’s a small world,” but I don’t believe that. It’s still a long way to China, in distance, time and culture, and Tibet is even further. We met very few Westerners in Tibet, and we were the subject of intense curiosity by the locals. I found it innocent, charming, and wholly understandable. After all, I’d gone there to look at them; how could I object to them looking at me?