Have you ever seen a polecat? November 19, 2005


In the wee hours of the morning, we were awakened by a loud clattering. Visakha thought it was an earthquake; Ken’s immediate reaction was “monkeys!” Nothing more seemed to happen, so we figured it wasn’t a quake. If it had been monkeys, though, we could be in big trouble. The windows are all covered with grills but the center of the house holds a big fishpond, open to the sky. (Ever wonder what fish do when it rains? They go to the bottom. ‘Fraid they are going to get wet?!)

The window is in a middle room between the library (no books yet) and the main hallway.

The ladder leads to what will be a recording studio.


Ken got out of our green mosquito net and checked the house. Everything appeared quite normal, so we went back to sleep and dreamed ... of monkeys and quakes?

A cave-temple painting showing that 300 years ago, they used mosquito nets the same as today


When we mentioned the commotion later to our landlady, she immediately responded, “Polecat!”


What? Well, polecats are related to ferrets but solitary. If this was a lady polecat, she was looking for a way into the space between roof and ceiling to have her litter. Evidently, polecats are fierce hunters, going after rats and mice, snakes, lizards, frogs, chickens, and anything else that moves. (For that, they are good to have around, but they mark territory with a strong scent. For that, not so good.)


Next morning, about three o’clock the electricity went off. That meant that the nightlight went out and Ken’s breathing machine stopped, so we woke up wondering if it was because of the election? We lay there awhile speculating (Ken daren’t go to sleep without the CPAP machine running.) Then Ken clambered out from under the sky-blue mosquito net to fetch a flashlight from the office in the front of the house. Lo! The electricity was on there, as he could tell from the little indicator lights on the wall outlets. Only the back of the house (master bedroom, bath, guest room (2), and kitchen) was out. Fortunately, he knew about the two circuit-breaker boxes because the landlady had shown them to him after he broke a circuit in getting a shock a few nights before. A flick of the switch in the back box, everything started working again.


Some of us went back to sleep, but at 7 AM the power failed again. This time the switch wouldn’t stay fixed. We wondered whether that pesky polecat was somehow messing up the wires?


We got up, meditated, checked e-mail, and informed the landlady that there was a problem with the electricity. Lily came and made tea for breakfast, but without electricity in the kitchen, she could not make toast. Ken realized that the nifty yellow toaster was portable, so he carried it into the dining room and plugged it in. ZAP! Lights went out in the rest of the house. Reset the switch and try again. ZAP! Reset the back switch and plug the toaster in the kitchen. ZAP! We’ll return the toaster in the afternoon. The problem was not the polecat after all. Lily checked the toaster and called, “Sir, look!” There was a dead gekko in the bottom. Evidently he electrocuted himself and blew the fuse at the same time. Poor guy! Lily keeps a plastic bag over the toaster now. Have to take care of our gekkos!


Much later we realized the implications of this. The toaster was OFF, but plugged in, with the outlet on. Anyone sticking something inside could have been electrocuted, as well! (Everything is 230 volts.)


The day before yesterday was election day. Lily voted before she came to clean house. It was our second day with no rain and blue skies. How nice! The temperatures--in the mid 70s, and because the clothes dried, nigh unto perfect!

Lily ironing in the hallway which will become part of the library when the books come

We’re still waiting to be called to go to see the “high priest” of Kandy about our visas. We’re not worried because we are in capable hands, but it will be good to have the technicalities nailed down.


The elderly gentleman who is handling things for us at the Subodarama Bhikkhu Training Center walked us through the application process. (We filled out all the forms again, indicating Subodarama, rather than BPS as our sponsor.) He has a droll sense of humor, calling Visakha up on just writing 62 for her age. “You had better put ‘years’ too. What if they think you are 62 months old?” Funny!


This gentleman also showed us an old file-folder containing ... correspondence we had with the abbot of Subodarama back in the mid-‘90s! He had recognized the name Kawasaki, but wondered if we were the same couple, since we had used Visakha’s Buddhist name, not her passport name, in the letters. What a sharp memory!


Well, we got through the election. Yesterday was the day after, but Kandy town was absolutely quiet, no three wheelers, no buses running, police everywhere, and all the shops shuttered. On our way to the BPS (which closed early), we even saw three cats gamboling around the streets. Why the quiet? Although this was a very calm election compared to previous ones, there still were fears of violence. The candidates wore bullet proof vests, but were still warned against speaking at some rallies in the capital, even behind bullet-proof glass, because it was too dangerous. Yesterday, people stayed at home because they were afraid that winners (or losers) would be drinking to celebrate (or commiserate) and that there would be brawling. We saw nothing untoward, but had to call our tuk tuk driver to pick us up at home. (There were none waiting down the way--first time we’ve seen that!) When he came, he admitted that he had taken two days off, except for our call. He is a Tamil and said that after the last presidential election, his three-wheeler had been damaged by maurading toughs. We had him wait at the BPS while we had our meeting with Ven. Nyanatusita; we certainly couldn’t have found another vehicle to bring us back home!


We’re working at home for BPS, doing some very serious proof-reading and editing of manuscripts, as well as our own work on the Jatakas and that long-dreamed of ESL text.


While we work, we drink delicious Sri Lnkan tea and mutter, “How did that mistake creep in there?” “The translator shouldn’t have changed the tone like that!” “Where did that footnote disappear to?” “Good heavens! That is vipassanu, not vipassana!” and the like.


Some problems are minor (Visakha doesn’t worry nearly so much about commas as Ken does--he’s obsessive in fact! He could have written “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.”), but, when the work is finally published, it should be perfect, so the more proofreaders and readings, the better. (How many commas in that sentence?) We seem to compliment each other rather well, playing gotcha with missed errors or questionable stuff. Sometimes it is downright funny. In a manual by Ledi Sayadaw (three different versions), we found that an inexplicable “human” in the middle of a sentence. Looking through the various versions, we discovered that a former proofreader had made this insertion, but the writing was illegible. After several puzzling minutes (not moments!), we realized that the word should have been “however”!


In the course of the reading, we are learning a lot about Buddhism, meditation, and Abhidhamma. It is really a pleasure to spend hours pouring over important Buddhist works, puzzling over meaning, and making sure it all makes sense. In fact, we can’t imagine very many pleasanter ways to spend a day.


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