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Breaking the Mold

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

By Amy Snelling Updated Nov.10

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 break-ins 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 unsuspecting 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.