This results in “the condo wars:” battles between condo dwellers, the “elements,” and the neighbors.

Battling mold

Photo: H.Anh

Most dwellings experience a plague of mold. Mold begins to consume Vietnamese homes immediately after final papers turning the dwelling over to new owners or renters are signed. Prior to that, mold is mysteriously not to be seen by prospective dwellers. No one knows why only the new dwellers have the problem.

 How do you know when the mold problem has gotten out of hand? Several ways: when your walls begin to resemble the algae in a long-neglected aquarium tank; your pet cat develops a nasty slimy, green color; clothing hanging in your closets has turned orange; and my personal favorite, your family comes down with a mysterious “condo cough” which never goes away even with the use of the most powerful antibiotics, cough syrup, or whisky.

The indoor waterfall 

If mold was not enough, water dripping from various places in your dwelling is always bad but can become a tsunami. The culprit areas most effected include: the bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, bedrooms, living room, office, closets, air conditioners, and balcony. Other than that, your dwelling is water disaster free. A general rule: if a room is supposed to have water service, it likely won’t; if it is not supposed to have water service, it likely does.

  How and why does water get in? There is a hole or crack that lets water flow into your dwelling, usually as a drip, then as a waterfall. Water somehow knows where a leak, or in some cases a flood, will do the most damage; be the most annoying; or ruin your antique collection of “lucky god” statues. In most cases, your neighbor’s dwelling is guaranteed to be the source of the water. It’s just waiting for a chance to do damage.

You might guess this is the case when you ask your neighbor about the water’s source. If the neighbor answers the door and says, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Vietnamese;” “it can’t be us, we don’t use water here, we only drink beer:” “what water, looks like mold to me;” “that water must have come from 10 floors up, check with them;” or, curtly, “bugger off!,” this means that the water is definitely coming from your neighbors dwelling.

Insect infestations and lazy geckos

Photo: Thuy Dao

 Questions: How can a termite colony make its way from the ground floor to the 30th floor of a condo. Why are the geckos living in your condo slow to gobble up these pests?

Termites, in my view, are worse than mold and water if they can establish a beachhead on your property.

Incessant remodeling

Vietnamese are always remodeling, repairing, or refurbishing their dwellings. To be sure, rectifying mold, water, and termite damage are major reasons. But many people seem to remodel frequently for the fun of it. Take the Tet holiday season: nearly everyone in our condo is remodeling so that their place will impress family, friends and acquaintances who visit during the holiday. They seemingly do this every Tet regardless of whether there is a need to remodel!

Remodeling is necessary because they don’t want family, friends, and acquaintances to think that they have lived more than a year in that same boring, last year’s fashion, soon-to-wear-out furnishings, and uninspiring decor. Who can stand to walk on the same wooden flooring for a whole year without ripping it out the next year, and the next, and the next.

Photo: Thuy Dao

Other remodeling also goes on when a condo owner wants to sell or rent out their property. The more remodeling, the higher the expected sale price. But this practice has gotten out of hand. Various next-door neighbors have either sold or rented their condo out 10 times in the past 10 years, with extensive remodeling each year.

Is this necessary? Is it so important to repaint all the walls a different color for a new resident when within a month it will be black or green? Do you really believe that a new toilet will not leak in your bathroom and your neighbors ceiling once installed?

Noise pollution       

The consequence of all these repairs is noise pollution, a complement to mold, water, and insect damage, not to mention “self-inflicted remodeling.”

Vietnamese must live with the constant 24/7 din coming from construction, traffic, karaoke clubs, motorcycle races, and emergency vehicles. But when noise emanates from inside the condo, then things just got personal.

 Workers, regardless of the severity of the problem find it necessary to use power tools—drills, sanders, industrial grade vacuums—on every surface of the condo. The noise produced replicates that of a nuclear weapon testing site. Ear plugs do not stop the racket. Workers like to blissfully drill away for hours, even when the job does not require drilling. Apparently, they get paid according to the number of hours they drill, rather than by the job.

Workers enjoy suddenly stopping their drilling. They intend to create a sense of hope among the neighbors that their work is finally finished. But just as the victimized neighbors are beginning to relax, the noise begins again, even louder. Sometimes, just to break up the monopoly of power tools, workers will randomly pound away with hammers. They enjoy playing little drumbeats as they bang away.

Photo: Thuy Dao

By the end of the day, neighbors have become deaf, while shaking uncontrollably. They also will be covered with concrete dusk mixed with mold, stale water, and fleeing termites that somehow find a way into their houses.

Most condos restrict noise pollution—drilling and pounding—from the hours of 8am to 5pm. This includes hauling tons of construction waste and products up and down the elevators. It’s important to workers that they fill the elevator with way more construction material than the elevator is permitted to hold. In this way, another company can come and repair the elevator. This is why most condo buildings never have all their elevators in operation at the same time.

Most condos impose fines on tenants who violate rules. But a small fine is worth it if the drilling can proceed for 24 hours a day.

But many noise polluters choose not to pay the fines. Instead, when a victimized neighbor approaches the offending neighbor about the noise, the offender asks, “what noise, I don’t hear anything.’;” “oh, that noise is from the neighbor on the top floor;” “these are emergency repairs, its only coincidental that this is happening before Tet;” or “you need to get your hearing checked!” Occasionally, offenders will reply, “yes the noise is coming from here, but perhaps you should complain to the condo board chair, who, by the way, is my uncle.”  

My favorite response from noise polluters is “the non-response.” When you knock on door to complain, suddenly noise from the dwelling, especially from the TV, goes quiet. You come back later, the same response. You yell through the door, “I can hear your TV!” Suddenly, it’s quiet and then no response.

Noise pollution offenders know it’s necessary to avoid contact with complaining neighbors for days, weeks or even months, rather than face an angry confrontation. When the drilling and pounding finally stops and your offending neighbor opens the door to the condo, you might remark: “all of this new work looks great in spite of the noise you inflicted on me” to which the polluter responds, “what new work, this room hasn’t changed for 20 years!”

Of course, there are some doors which you should never knock on to complain. Use your imagination: Enough said.

The bottom line: complaining does little good.

Remember: you live in a tropical country, which is noisy.

Sweet revenge

For some unknown reason, our condo only experienced minor mold, water leaks, and a termite invasion over the past decade. In those few cases, we had good neighbors who shared costs and opened their homes for repairs. And these neighbors were never a source of “excessive” noise pollution.

Unhappily, our condo was finally experienced a plague of disasters, accompanied by condo cough and jungle rot. It appeared that the jungle had finally overwhelmed our condo. Remediating the damage would, of course, required some major noise producing interventions.

We were so excited that we might be able to try out some of the excuses offered to us in the past by noise polluters and deniers. We did not violate the condo 8am-5pm rules! But we did wait anxiously for someone to knock on the door and complain. It would be great to say, “what noise?” Or, to say, “what mold or water?”

No one came to complain. What is the world coming to?

We should have known; we live in a tropical country!

Terry F. Buss