In his quest to be the first to bagpipe across the globe, Ross OC Jennings was in Bhutan, the 82nd country he has travelled to since 2014.
During his bagpiping journey, he plays his folk music in his kilt, knee-high socks and a white shirt. “These shoes have travelled to 40 countries. This is the second pair of shoes,” he said showing his worn out pair.
In Bhutan, Ross, 28, has performed for the students of Bayta Primary School in Phobjikha, Wangdue and for HRH Princess Kesang Choden Wangchuck in Thimphu. “I wanted to perform at the Tiger’s nest but it would be disrespectful, so I did not perform there,” he said.
His bagpiping adventure began in 2014 when attending a travel expo in London.
No sooner had he quit his job at a technology start- up, and kicked-off his kilted adventure in Tunisia, he was frisked by the Tunisian police. That was in May 2014.
With little knowledge in French, Arabic, and Tunisian—the languages spoken in Tunisia, he said he could barely understand that he was in a problem.
“As they start checking the rented car I had, there were some documents from 2012 and all I could assume was that the document was out of date. They go mad and scream and made me unpack everything,” he said. “And when they saw my bagpipes, they pointed at it and said ‘mizwad’, which means bagpipes and they go ‘yulla’meaning ‘come on lets hear it’.”
With some hesitation, Ross OC Jennings recalls playing and an excited crowd cheers him.
“They even helped me pack my bags and were like ‘go go, mashallah.’ It was so weird. That was my first country and after that I knew what I had to do it. It was like the coolest experience. It had cleared any doubts I had about travelling.”
Irish – Scottish, Ross grew up in China experiencing little of his cultural folklore.
When he got an opportunity to learn bagpiping, he grabbed it.
“I was one of the few people to pick it up. They offered us one year-worth of free-lesson. Everyone else thought it was not cool. As a teenager, learning bagpipes is not cool and saying that you like Celtic music or folk music is even worse,” Ross said.
Jennings’s love for travelling is largely associated to the stories he hears of the people he meets.
Although incidences of harsh comments and reactions are seldom, his journey has to date been received with amusement and appreciation.
“The reactions are lovely. About 98 percent of the incidences are positive. In Vietnam, I would walk and choose a spot to bagpipe for fun. I would always pass this ladies’ vegetable vendors and they would laugh and speak in Vietnamese, to which I would laugh and nod back.”
On his last day in Vietnam, he visited the ladies with a translator.
“Apparently they were asking if I was a woman and if I was, then why was I so ugly. I had been nodding all the time without knowing. After that I got a lovely photo with them with a temple in the back,” he laughs.
As he bagpipes through various countries, he also gives talks in international schools to inspire and motivate students to travel and to embrace one’s differences. “Education is one field I want to work in the future and mix it with travelling. I want to work with children in someway.”
He plans to make the United States his 100th country. Ross was in Nepal before travelling to Bhutan. “It is not easy to travel to Bhutan but I appreciate how Bhutan has preserved its culture and environment,” he said.