“You can mold a mannerism, but must chisel a character.” ~ Unknown
“Oooooooh,” our housing agent coos upon seeing the pictures of the pink invader in our master bedroom. I scroll to the next, and it’s immediately followed by an all-konwing “Ahhhhhhhhhh…”.
“Very bad,” I say, continuing to scroll through the ten-odd photos on my Sony POS camera. “Much worse since typhoon.” She acknowledges this last point with an interesting grunt that the Japanese favor as a receiver in conversations: “Ungh.”
“Wallpaper,” comes her flat reply.
I pause for a moment, expecting this response. We were told when we moved in that our condo bedroom had to be repaired due to mold problems around our sit-in picture window; the military requires such disclosures here on the island. Mainly because here in Okinawa mold is almost a constant and continuous battle that must be waged without quarter or pause. It is one of the more interesting but annoying faces of living literally in an ocean-front condo…of Japanese design and construction.
But given the humid history of our particular unit, combined with just having the wallpaper replaced about six or eight weeks ago (due to mold), I thought maybe (and naively hopefully) that there might be a better and more permanent fix for our particular predicament. In other words, maybe they should try treating the disease rather than the symptoms!
I think about my words carefully now. I do not want to be so much trouble that our lease will not be renewed, but I also want to avoid health issues related to living with…or more to the point, breathing In mold spores. Our housing agency recently told a friend of ours, who inquired about a vacate unit on our floor, that they are starting to rent to Japanese since the Americans have so much trouble with mold. Maybe it’s our culture of fear, or maybe the Japanese are just heartier people, but no one should have co-habitat with a fungus…among us.
“Uh…problem…in wall,” I start slowly and warily, dealing concurrently with both the mold and the language barrier between us.
“Hai!” comes her excited reply in perfect synch with an acknowledging head nod.
But nothing more.
“Uh, open wall and fix?” I gently urge.
“Hai, new wallpaper,” comes the same reply….
Fine. New wallpaper it is. Here’s our of attack in what appears to be this losing biological warfare: renew our lease in August (when it is up for renewal) for another year, and then just have the paper replaced every time the pink-spotted invader makes an appearance. Surely sooner or latter the owner and/or our housing agency will get the message. Or at least figure out that the time and materials spent on new wallpaper actually will start to cost more than an actual, permanent fix. I have previously touched on the particular Japanese fetish with wallpaper; see a write-up about the quirkiness of our condo. Heck, we even have it – “wall” paper – on our ceiling. Now I know why….
For us, however, this whole ordeal is quite an inconvenience. First, the infected paper comes down, followed almost immediately by the strong order of mildew. Next, the Japanese spray and scrub down the exposed drywall with a very popular chemical solution sold in droves in their DIY stores, which, by my uncalibrated smell-o-meter, is at least 50% bleach, and 50% equally deadly “stuff.” I can only imagine the warnings and MSDS that accompany this stuff if sold in at home…. So the condo smells as strongly as I imagine a disinfected African Ebola ward would.
The walls remain bare while they dry, which means at least four days of camping and sleeping in our living room while the AC blasts our bedroom, windows open, bathroom exhaust fan on, and air intake handler running on high. We literally brought too much schtick with us to have a guest room, and besides, we only have one bed at present. The abusive smell slowly trails off with each passing day, and the walls dry before our very eyes. This time around, in an effort to avoid having to do this again in two months, I actually caulked the screws, holes, old repairs, and seams in the drywall, all of which were never taped, mudded or sealed properly in the first place. For a domicile on the waterfront, there certainly isn’t a lot of attention paid to waterproofing….
So it’s Saturday as I write. The paper came down this past Thursday afternoon, and this coming Monday we get our new wallpaper. Followed necessarily by a deep cleaning of the bedroom and a change of bedding. But then there’s the bane of my existence as a domestic engineer: the dreaded dusting of all our bedroom’s horizontal surfaces!
So hopefully in a mere 48-odd hours this round of tropical troubles will be over. Mold here is viewed as a by-product of the environment, as opposed to something that is harmful and which can be defeated at the start by better engineering and construction practices. In other words, I lived on the Inter-coastal Waterway in Florida for five years, and mold wasn’t even something I ever remotely worried about. While the Japanese seem rather dismissive of the health impacts of mold and mildew, there is pretty ding-dang clear evidence that either (or both) increase the risk of respiratory illness, particular in those with pre-existing conditions (like asthma), and for the very young and very old.
On the other hand, the structures here are well-engineered against earthquakes and typhoons, both of which we have uncomfortably experienced first-hand and without issue. So maybe, just maybe, we should accept the new wallpaper graciously.
My lungs and throat, however, compel the fight against the marauding mold. Our tactical victories may continue, but stay tuned for any strategic surprises later this summer and fall.