People are good

The day we left Petersburg we went to the airport to check in at the tiny terminal.  (Things work out that you can actually run home for an hour after checking in for your flight!)  While we were there there were just a few people around other than the employees.  One was a black guy with his arm in a sling.  The immediate assumption I had was that he was a cannery worker headed home after an injury that took him out of work.  We had Jacob with us and were doing our usual back and forth in mixed English and Mandarin.  It isn’t hard to tell when you look at us that he’s not our biological child.  I was running out to the car to grab Jacob’s Alaska Airlines frequent flier registration card and the guy sitting there asked his name.  While I was out grabbing the card, he called Jacob over and gave him a crisp 100 dollar bill.  Pepper stammered when she saw how much it was and reminded Jacob to thank him.  She asked him why he gave the money to Jacob and he just replied “I’m a nice person.”

We can’t lie, the adoption has been financially draining and a random $100 is great to have.  We just spent it on Jacob’s first tech gadget.  He now has a kid-specific Android tablet.  When we picked it out we picked him up and asked if he was happy and Jacob was clearly near tears with his joy.  It will be loaded with educational and fun games for him, allow him top take photos (which he really has enjoyed doing) and give one more bit of peace to the ample travel that we have to do.

Thank you to the generosity of a complete stranger, we felt the joy of love and life.  We’ll be passing it on.


Yes, Seth, you’re next.

Next in my series about brothas of anotha motha.  And by that I mean the friends that have been there through thick and thin – no, Seth, I’m not calling you fat.

The first time Seth and I spoke was at Kito’s Kave.  I don’t remember exactly what he said to me but he thought I was Devren (Devren, your post will come).  I remember the first time he invited me to do something socially too.  That was a big deal, having spent the first six months in Petersburg and my only socialization was with employees and board members.  Eventually what happens is the non-locals start looking out for each other.  They become the ambassadors of Petersburg.  The kind of people that I connect people with when they visit Petersburg (yes, Orin, your post will come soon too.)  Seth was one of those guys – he collected the people that were new to town and made them feel welcome.

You're stepping on my willy!

You’re stepping on my willy!

He originated the idea of Finger Food Fridays when he had themed gatherings like Crazy Hat Day or the time that he had purchased a bunch of ceramic dolls and every guest had to decorate them.  Some were decorated on the barbecue.  Others with sharpies or hand tools.  One time Levy hid someone’s shoe in his freezer.  I remember another girl telling her friend that he wasn’t gay after she had sat on his lap.  Aside from all the fun times…


You said fun hat party. We came for the fun hats.

Seth taught me a lot about hard work too.  Though he taught me about seasonal hard work.  He’d work 12-14 hours a day when it was busy but then find the time to travel much of the rest of the year.  He turned the fisherman lifestyle into reality for me.  Travel in the off season – that sounded pretty good to me.  And he also broke the image of a white guy married to an Asian woman.  He actually met his fantastic wife and didn’t pay a website to meet her (unlike me and my wife…)

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Vietnam 241

In 2007 Seth taught me a lot.  I went to Cambodia and Vietnam with him and some of the things he said still are part of my foundation.  “If you see something and like it, buy it.” was one of the more powerful ones.  “Ask your friends if their sisters are hot” was another one, but Tozzo (yeah, your post will come along too!) was all over that!

Cambodia 037

He was like Lara Croft – Tomb Raider. Pre-sex change, bypass surgery, and enhancement surgery.

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Seth prefers his stair machines be at least 1000 years old.


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This was before you had to have a detachable lens to be cool as a traveler.


Seth was the guy that hosted my bachelor party 2.0.  My first bachelor party was my brother, Mike (your post is coming too!) and I going for a walk in a stream bed near the wedding site.  The second bachelor party was setting off fireworks at Seth’s place.  It was the perfect storm.  Alcohol, fireworks, no zoning, my dad being there, my soon to be son there… How about I try to blow stuff up?

Seth likes his humor like he likes his wine.  Dry, acidic, with a hint of complexity.  Like this blog post.

I hope I get to spend some time with him this summer!

Photos of Jacob

Here are some pictures of Jacob.  Ignore his state of undress in some.  He usually wears clothes, but the tablet is the only camera usually available at night.  He loves to be helpful – cleaning the toilet was especially exciting.  We are pretty sure that his first experiences with a western toilet happened a month and a half ago!







Bag of Pringles

Hey, don’t judge. We packed a bag of snacks for our week long drive to and through the Gobi desert and I snapped this picture of one of our bags…



Every Rose has its Thorn is playing.  A minute ago, Ozzy was wailing “mama I’m coming home.”  Pepper says the coffee is good.  We have our noses in our books and the white noise of the coffee shop mingles with the stream of rock ballads.

The food is perfect.  Our waitress has just a tiny bit of British accent.  The other patrons are speaking in Tamil so we don’t understand.  The words drift off into the background where, if you really pay attention, you can hear the squeak of dusty brakes, the strain of tuk-tuk motors and the distinctive toots from two-wheeler horns. 

…and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

There are places like this that expats flock to.  The cliché of an oasis is just too fitting to go unused.  This one is just a coffee shop but there are spas, restaurants, salons, bars… They are everywhere that foreigners create a perceived demand.

Oh, hold on.  Metallica is playing.  I need to look out the window.

“What I’ve felt, what I’ve known…”

The stray dogs scour the roadsides.  The rickshaw drivers fidget in their autos.  Men sit on the back of motorcycles and cling to cargo – bundles of pipe twice the length of the cycle, boxes suited for flat-screen televisions, unidentifiable stainless steel contraptions.  Some wear shoes and some are barefoot.  Some wear helmets, some sunglasses.  Most wear a mustache and if they don’t they wear a beard and headwear that identifies them as Muslim.  There are also the women that have their saris needing adjusting from the breeze created from the open tuk-tuk or exposed motorbike. 

It has been months since a good rain yet the trees are still green.  The crows have a grayish brown neck and shoulder.  They perch in the trees and alight in the beds or boxes of passing trucks to inspect the cargo. 

It is warm, but not so hot that walking around is oppressive.  The air conditioning is blasting in the coffee shop.  One table of men are all wearing long sleeve plaid shirts with jeans.  A lady at another table dons a scarf .

I accidentally make eye contact with a beggar on the street.  She stares at me and moves to be back in my vision after I redirect.  Her gaze sobers my introspection.  A red SUV cuts through the line of sight on my self-loathing. 

We don’t often shelter in an oasis like this.  But we don’t often see the real India either.  We have one foot firmly in our home culture and standard of living with the other barefoot and scraping the hot asphalt as we do a fly-by of the local culture.  We flit between our home and the school.  Both immersed in largely recognisable English, with western toilets and familiar foods.  We keep vowing to see more of this place and really hope that next year will allow us to spend more time in the real India.

Students respond to our adoption

There is a Facebook group that posts anonymously submitted compliments made by students of our school and we’ve been the recipients of two of them…

AISC compliment1

AISC compliments


It has been really wonderful to see the response by high school and middle school students to his arrival.

Jacob on his first airplane


He was exhausted but excited about being on his first plane.

Our adoption journey – picking up Jacob

On our Malaysian Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, our flight took a bit of a dive and turn.  Then the plane shook and dropped a few times.  Just enough turbulence that the woman seated in front of us shrieked every time the plane made a sudden movement.  It isn’t hard to imagine everyone on the plane was a little nervous about flying the same leg of the same airline that has a plane still missing weeks later.  Pepper, like everyone else that was sleeping, woke up.  “Not a nice way to wake” she bluntly pointed out.   We saw lightning out of the window and after a little while we passed through the storm.  But let me back up…

On Saturday, March 29th, Pepper and I left Chennai to head to China.  It is the start of our spring break for school and Jordan is spending the week with a friend and his parents.  We flew about 4 hours on Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur where we had a six hour layover.  We found a nice spot where I could get some work done for my graduate classes and Pepper did a little bit of poking around the airport.  We then flew another six hours on the flight to Beijing.  Despite the turbulence it was an otherwise uneventful flight.  Then we spent another six hours in the Beijing airport where I slept for a few hours and Pepper used her nervous energy to track down Starbucks coffee.  Finally we hopped on the final flight – to Hefei, China.  Hefei is the capital of Anhui province.   Our guide and driver picked us up and shuttled us about 45 minutes into Hefei to the Holiday Inn.  We went out for a walk after eating at the noodle shop on the second floor of the hotel.  We prepped the documents we needed for the morning and slept for a long time.

We were picked up at our hotel at 9 in the morning by our guide Tingting and driver Leo after we ate at the buffet breakfast.  The adoption center for the province is only 10 minutes from the hotel.  Jacob arrived about an hour later and while we waited we saw another family receive their child which helped put us a little at ease.


When Jacob came into the room he looked excited and then when we were pointed out he started crying.  He ended up sort of cornered with his orphanage director, our guide and us around him.  He eventually settled a little and he sat with Pepper while I went through signing documents.  Pepper went through the whole bag of things we brought for the day and he wasn’t interested in LEGO, a coloring book, a stuffed animal, or anything else.
They took us back to our hotel and I managed to get him to hold my hand a few times.  When we got to our hotel room he peeked around a little and then started absolutely sobbing.  After a bit, I resorted to showing him Angry Birds and he got into that, which we were able to turn into interest in other games on the tablet and then eventually the LEGO, looking out the window, eating room service, watching TV… then we went for a half hour walk before being picked back up to finish the adoption paperwork.  There, Jacob had to write that he agreed to be adopted and then sign his name.  We had a few minutes with a notary and a quick chat with the adoption official and then were given a paper indicating that our adoption is complete.
We went back to the hotel and played a bit, went to the noodle restaurant, got his feet wet in his first swimming pool, figured out that he’s probably never used a western toilet, played more and finally got him tired enough to sleep.
The next day we went to the orphanage which we expected to be a rough day.  It turns out that he had recently been moved to a section set aside for older boys and he had three roommates – one about thirty and two past their teens.  They had been taking care of him recently so we brought them some chips and soda.  We were able to see the school that he attended in the afternoons.  He only cried a little.  We were able to meet one of his roommates and see the room he had been living in.  After this quick stop, we went to his “finding place” this bit from a 2008 newspaper explains…
“An abandoned baby, male, name unknown.  According to medical examination, the doctor estimated that he was 3 years old.  Small eyes, dark skin, and congenital leg deformity.  He was picked up at the gate of Huai Nan Train Station on May 19, 2008.”
Abandonment of children is strictly prohibited.  But apparently train stations are fairly common, as people from other areas can arrive there and they are pretty crowded so the child is less likely to succumb to the elements than if they were left out someplace remote.
I have had to spend quite a bit of time just being still in bed hoping that he would fall asleep.  I have work and schoolwork that I should be doing but he’s actually taken to us much more than I expected.  We have bought some clothes and taken a few walks with him.  He’s settling in much better than I expected.
We’re about to board our flight to Guangzhou for the next step in the adoption – dealing with the US government… More on that in a few days!

We are off to pick up Jacob soon – the final days before our adoption is complete

I have been pretty terrible about posting updates for some time now.  We’ve been terribly busy.  I’m taking a couple of graduate classes, coached middle school volleyball, helped run two track meets and we’re in the final days before we depart to China to pick up the boy we’re adopting.

The adoption is a long and tiring process but we’re near the end of the pre-adoption stage and on Saturday morning we leave India to head to China.  On Monday we’ll be picking Jing Yun up.  Here is an email that my incredibly caring coworker sent out to our school staff…

Meet Jacob, a new member of the McFarland and AISC family.

As most of you know, I work alongside/co-teach one of the most hilarious, talented, and kind-hearted people I know, Ryan McFarland. Over the past eight months, I have also had the opportunity to observe, learn and chat with Ryan and Pepper about Jacob, an 8 year old Chinese boy with cerebral palsy who they hope to adopt from China. Jacob is an adorable young boy who currently attends a public Chinese school during the day and the orphanage school in the afternoons. 

Ryan and his lovely wife Pepper McFarland have been working on adopting Jacob since January 2013. That time is soon arriving when Ryan and Pepper’s dream will come true. They are picking up Jacob on March 31st!!!

As I have the pleasure of working two feet away from Ryan, I have laughed and cried at this incredible act of humility that he and Pepper are doing for a child. Their selflessness is incredible. In fact, everything they’ve done lately has been with Jacob in mind. Lately, I’ve been thinking, “What can I do to help?!?” Well, the first thing I thought of was a baby shower (Date TBD), but what will they need for their new child (who is not a baby, but an eight-year-old son)? I will let you decide but I wanted to INVITE EVERYONE to come to the “Welcome Home” party and help celebrate and meet their new son Jacob into the AISC family.

Ryan, Pepper and Jordan know I’m sharing this news with the community, but what they don’t know is what I have in mind for the “welcome home shower”…. I just wanted to let everyone know (who doesn’t know yet) about this incredible selfless act that Ryan and Pepper are doing and wanted to give you all an opportunity to show your gratitude. 

If you want to meet Jacob, scroll below to check out the awesomely adorable Jacob McFarland who will be joining us at AISC as one of the only Chinese students at this school and in the 2nd grade class.

Thank You! I’m hoping we can show Ryan, Pepper and Jordan that we all are here offering our support and commend them on this huge act of rare kindness.

See you at the BABY SHOWER on TBD :)




Here is the video where Jacob can be seen saying that Americans have white hair and blue eyes… and are very old. Warning: it’s a real tear jerker.
Jacob attends public school and joins the students at LWB’s Anhui Believe in Me School during the mid day and evening when he returns to the orphanage.  

Jacob loves to assist his teachers by helping to set up the schoolwork for his classmates, and he always offers to stay after class to help his teachers. He gets along well with his classmates and is a very good leader and team player. In fact, he recently participated in a walking race where the teachers say that he “united his teammates, because he knows that this is the key to success.” What a bright little boy!

Ganesh Chaturthi in Chennai

A few months ago we went to the beach to experience the “washing” of Ganesh statues.  This is part of a festival celebrating the rebirth of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu God.  The idols are creates out of clay, paper-mache, or plaster of paris.  Police are ever present to keep citizens back from the waters – many people here can’t swim.  This was one of our best experiences in Chennai.  The parade of statues, the cheering, drumming, and milling crowds…