Break­ing the Mold

NewsChina - - ESSAY - By Amy Snelling

There's a ques­tion that all prop­erty agents ask dur­ing the dreaded apart­ment hunt process: “Do you mind liv­ing on the first floor?” Hon­estly, it's a ques­tion that I'd never re­ally ques­tioned, as­sum­ing that I just knew the rea­son why it's asked. Se­cu­rity, ob­vi­ously. But as a fairly para­noid per­son with a pen­chant for hor­ror movies and a vivid imag­i­na­tion, I've gen­er­ally leaned to­ward the “Yes, I mind” de­mo­graphic.

Any­way, sum­mer rolls around. Des­per­ate to bring the sweaty slog of apart­ment hunt­ing to an end, and pre­fer­ring a ter­race over peace of mind, I push aside ter­ri­fy­ing vi­sions of the cat in­ten­tion­ally un­lock­ing the front win­dow and slid­ing it open – leav­ing us a prime tar­get for bur­glars in search of a few pairs of worn Feiyue sneak­ers and a rusty bench press – and sign an 18-month con­tract for a first-floor apart­ment. “You're sure you're OK with the first floor?” the agent presses. “We're sure.” It's a per­fect lit­tle one bed­room place. It's got a ter­race with a pome­gran­ate tree and a string of fairy lights. The kitchen gets loads of nat­u­ral light. The rent is in­cred­i­bly rea­son­able. It's per­fect. Too per­fect...

Prompted by the agent's “You're sure?” we ask if the area is known for is­sues with breakins then. “No, def­i­nitely not. And there's a dou­ble lock on the door and the neigh­bors are very vig­i­lant.” He's not kid­ding, it's like liv­ing in Fort Knox. But, af­ter a few prob­ing ques­tions, he doesn't at any point men­tion that there's some­thing much more ter­ri­fy­ing that first floor apart­ments are no­to­ri­ous for, espe­cially in op­pres­sively hu­mid Shang­hai: damp – and its part­ner in crime – mold.

Now while this might be ob­vi­ous or known to a lot of peo­ple, not ev­ery­one is up to speed with this chap­ter of Apart­ment Hunt­ing 101. Take me, for ex­am­ple, I've some­how re­mained com­pletely, bliss­fully ig­no­rant of damp crises – at least, in any se­ri­ous way. Pair that ig­no­rance with a few other ques­tion­able moves, say, pick­ing an apart­ment with no win­dows at the back of a builtin wardrobe set be­tween an ex­ter­nal wall and a bath­room… It's got all the trap­pings of a mold won­der­land.

Pic­ture this: it's Shang­hai, it's sum­mer, tem­per­a­tures are soar­ing and hu­mid­ity is high. My part­ner and I are broke af­ter mov­ing so us­ing AC or the newly in­her­ited de­hu­mid­i­fier (should've been a sign) are a lux­ury only al­lowed when we're on the verge of melt­ing. And, some­where, in the fusty cor­ner of a dark wardrobe a few mold spores are qui­etly schem­ing. With mil­i­tary-like pre­ci­sion, they plan a full-on closet dom­i­na­tion, be­fore ad­vanc­ing with a sneak at­tack on the suit­cases safe­guard­ing the win­ter clothes, swarm­ing the shoes and storm­ing onto the un­sus­pect- ing fur­nish­ings in the liv­ing room.

The re­al­iza­tion that some ma­lig­nant force is brew­ing comes late one night when I ac­ci­den­tally knock a pair of once-black shoes off the rack to find them a new shade of dusty green. Hor­ri­fied, but not yet aware, I care­lessly toss the of­fend­ing item in the trash and put the degra­da­tion down to age. The apart­ment is ob­vi­ously sticky, but it's sum­mer, it's Shang­hai, ev­ery­where is sticky.

The next sign that some­thing's re­ally up is when I pull an also once-black coat out of the closet to find it that same shade of mold green. I drop it off at the dry clean­ers, and see­ing no more ob­vi­ous signs of a big­ger prob­lem, I brush the is­sue aside once more.

It's the next day. The day when I un­wit­tingly go out wear­ing a top adorned with a mold em­blem and it dawns on me: we're un­der at­tack. Upon closer in­spec­tion of the apart­ment, things look bad. Things are bad. Sud­denly, I can see it ev­ery­where: fuzzy hues of green where col­ors had once been. The damp smell just… waft­ing. Ac­tual health risks aside, the de­struc­tion is in­cred­i­ble: boots, coats, back­packs, blan­kets, the cover of a Chi­nese text­book (prob­a­bly should be us­ing that more reg­u­larly) – even the cat's got a fun­gal in­fec­tion on his ears.

Con­fused as to why the land­lord didn't give us a friendly heads up about the apart­ment's damp prob­lem, and unas­sured by his re­as­sur­ance that “it'll only be this bad in sum­mer,” we launch our coun­ter­at­tack. Armed with all man­ner of de­hu­mid­i­fy­ing tools, bleach, white vine­gar, wash­ing de­ter­gent and a roll of garbage bags, we wash, chuck and scrub. Work­ing our way through the car­nage, one thing keeps go­ing through my mind: why my Christ­mas jumper? Yes, my wardrobe needs a sort out, but not like this.

Af­ter three nights, a bank-break­ing laun­dry bill and sacks of be­long­ings that couldn't be saved, I think, let this be a warn­ing: break the mold be­fore it breaks all your things. And never as­sume you know the an­swer to a ques­tion you don't.

The re­al­iza­tion that some ma­lig­nant force is brew­ing comes late one night when I ac­ci­den­tally knock a pair of once-black shoes off the rack to find them a new shade of dusty green

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