A soft-sleeper from Beijing brought us to Xi’an, a Shaanxi city which has expanded past its ancient walls with the same flurry of activity and industry that we saw in the north. Once the capital-city of the region, Xian is now most famous for the discovery of the Terracotta Warriors nearby.

And admittedly, they are pretty cool. Row upon row of individual, life-sized statues inexplicably standing to attention in three covered (roofed & walled) pits. There are different ranks, different weapons, horses … apparently there are even the different “facial types” present in China at the time. I don’t believe anybody really knows why they were built, but one tour guide suggested that the emperor wanted to rule an army in the afterlife — I prefer the much more plausible hypothesis that an ancient army was turned to stone by a mountain shaman, and will one day fight again for the new emperor … feel a bit bad for the soldiers without heads, ‘though, not to mention those entirely destroyed.

Our hostel in Xian was nice, set in the last Ming-style (or is it Qing?) building in the city. As we opted for their most expensive room (to spoil ourselves), it was a proper little palace! Furthermore the grounds were home to three cute little kittens — funny, the Chinese word for cat is “mao” — who we nicknamed Black & White, White & Black and Little Lion. They would fight and play, as kittens do, and liked to sneak into our room and stretch out on the enormous bed…

That night there was a “dumpling party” in which we rolled dumplings (gyoza, is that Japanese?) into various different patterns and styles — or attempted to at least — under the watchful eyes of the locals. Once made they all went into a pan, were cooked and served up to us … for free! It was a good chance to chat to people, and we ended up having a bottle of wine with a couple of Aussies who had just travelled from Vietnam and Thailand.

Professor of Artificial Intelligence

My research interests include distributed robotics, mobile computing and programmable matter.