Fraser Hamilton Topley
Not since 1941, when a bold Scot ventured across the high sea to Toronto, has a member of houses Topley, MacDonald, Grameslaw or Hamilton chosen to leave the cold beauty of Britain’s shores and settle in a foreign land. Nonetheless, just shy of 80 years later, I left my Kingdom for the Middle Kingdom.
At the age of thirteen or so I remember quite clearly the sense of dejection and frustration as only my hand rose when offered the opportunity to study a modern Chinese history, whereas the unadventurous rest played it safe and lumped for more studies of WW2 (incredibly interesting and important period of history, but any fellow Brit out there knows we study that era to death) – my first real opportunity to study the far east disappeared in an instant. Yet, this experience came to mind upon choosing my university degree, and spurred me to pursue an Asian Studies degree, eventually settling on History and, quite on a whim, Chinese, at University of Edinburgh.
Regrets are wretched things whilst also serving as beautiful inspiration. Looking back at my time at university my greatest regret is not knowing early on that I would want to be in China, as the Chinese language part of my course was heeded little attention due to my interest at the time being solely focused on the historical, social, and political content of my courses (not only China, but Japan, Kenya, British Empire and the Maori, and Christianity as a world religion), and to this day my lack of radical knowledge and basic grammar structures haunts me. However, a year abroad in Dalian provided me with a singular drive: return to China. Arriving back in Edinburgh, a city I love dearly, I knew that I wanted to leave and get back to the Middle Kingdom (got to have those 瓜饼, right?), be it to study or work. That’s how this Topley took off from the majestic, tranquil lands of North Yorkshire and Midlothian for the gargantuan 热闹 (hustle and bustle) of Beijing.
After four years of teaching, the time has come for a much-needed injection of excitement and challenge, and so far The Hutong is giving me a regular course of doses. I almost quit university in order to pursue an ambition of becoming an outdoor sports and activities leader after a year and a half on the course. Little did I know that roughly six years later I would get to combine that shelved ambition with those historical interests of my childhood, as well as my unexpected discovery of China as my desired destination. My free time sees me throwing frisbees, cooking, reading, watching wrestling, and enjoying a wee dram or two, but all this aside, ‘chomping at the bit’ is my current state of mind as I explore how much The Hutong will make my interests a natural part of work and life.