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Meet Xian’er, a Robotic Monk Designed to Teach People About Buddhism

Buddhism is about 2500 years old, but the religion seems to be adapting quite well to the modern era. The Longquan temple on the outskirts of Beijing has implemented a new recruit in the form of a robotic monk named Xian’er.

The bot is two feet tall, wears yellow "robes," sports a bald head, and carries a small touch screen on its chest. It can chant mantras, answer 20 questions about the faith, and moves in seven different ways through voice command. The temple hopes Xian’er can serve as a new way to connect with current and prospective Buddhists who are more accustomed than ever before to interacting with devices.

While Xian’er might seem incongruous with spiritual practice, creator and Longquan monk Master Xianfian, told Reuters, “Science and Buddhism are not opposing nor contradicting, and can be combined and mutually compatible."

Xian’er was inspired by a character from Xianfan's 2013 cartoon series, Trouble, You Seek for Yourself. The temple has produced books and merchandise featuring the robo-monk, all in an effort to marry Buddhist philosophy with current culture. The robot was developed by a tech company and artificial intelligence experts from a few of China’s top universities, and while Xian’er was just unveiled in October, a new model with even more functionality is already being developed.

International Business Times reports that Xian’er has 300,000 followers on Chinese social media site Weibo, and while that might indicate a certain amount of celebrity clout, the robot reportedly spends much of his days "meditating" in the temple’s office.

To see more of Xian’er, check out the video from Vocativ above.

[h/t Vocativ]

Banner image via Vocativ // YouTube.

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Food
This Couple Has Spent the Past 30 Years Visiting Every Cracker Barrel in the U.S.
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Ray and Wilma Yoder are probably America's foremost amateur experts on Cracker Barrel restaurants. As Eater reports, the Indiana couple is on a 30-year quest to eat at every single Cracker Barrel in the U.S. And they’ve almost completed it.

Ray Yoder of Goshen, Indiana, first started going to Cracker Barrel regularly when he worked delivering RVs across the country. Soon, Wilma was coming along, too, and the couple began hunting down Cracker Barrel locations in earnest, a pastime they’ve pursued for the past three decades.

Cracker Barrel got its start in Lebanon, Tennessee, in 1969, and according to Ray, visiting the restaurants while on the road felt like being at home. “It has a down-home spirit, and everybody is friendly,” he told the Lebanon Democrat. He told the paper that stopping at Cracker Barrels helped relieve boredom when he was on the road.

Ray and Wilma Yoder stand in front of two RVs outside a Cracker Barrel.
Now, he and Wilma are celebrities to those in the Cracker Barrel know. Cracker Barrel’s corporate leadership invites them to opening day at new stores. Employees know of them, and sometimes they receive gift baskets when they come in to cross a new Cracker Barrel off their list. People ask to take their picture when they visit.

The 80-year-olds have just two rules for their visits: At each location, they always buy something, even if it’s just a cup of coffee, and leave a tip. There’s no limit on how many Cracker Barrels they’ll go to in a single day, though. They once visited 10 different locations on a drive along the East Coast. Overall, their Cracker Barrel adventure has taken them more than 5 million miles across 44 states.

The Yoders recently visited their 644th Cracker Barrel, attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new location in Lavonia, Georgia, in early July. They’re hoping to hit up the last Cracker Barrel on their list—until the next one opens, that is—by heading to Tualatin, Oregon, sometime later this year.

Update: Portland news station KGW reports that the Yoders have now completed their quest, stopping in at the Tualatin Cracker Barrel on August 28. The company flew them to Oregon for the occasion, which marked the end of their 645-restaurant journey. For now, at least.

[h/t Eater]

All images courtesy Cracker Barrel

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Animals
Watch a Panda Caretaker Cuddle With Baby Pandas While Dressed Up Like a Panda
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Some people wear suits to work—but at one Chinese nature reserve, a handful of lucky employees get to wear panda suits.

As Travel + Leisure reports, the People's Daily released a video in July of animal caretakers cuddling with baby pandas at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province. The keepers dress in fuzzy black-and-white costumes—a sartorial choice that's equal parts adorable and imperative to the pandas' future success in the wild.

Researchers raise the pandas in captivity with the goal of eventually releasing them into their natural habitat. But according to The Atlantic, human attachment can hamper the pandas' survival chances, plus it can be stressful for the bears to interact with people. To keep the animals calm while acclimating them to forest life, the caretakers disguise their humanness with costumes, and even mask their smell by smearing the suits with panda urine and feces. Meanwhile, other keepers sometimes conceal themselves by dressing up as trees.

Below, you can watch the camouflaged panda caretakers as they cuddle baby pandas:

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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