Welcome to Envy Park by Mina V. Esguerra

If I could be honest with myself, I’d say I want an existence like Moira’s. The lead character of Ms Mina V Esguerra’s Welcome to Envy Park is driven, focused, organized – definitely not “a leaf in the wind”. Instead, she is the wind – a force to be reckoned with once she’s made her mind up.

The blurb to the book goes:

 Moira Vasquez is a doer. A planner. A get-up-and-goer. At twenty-two, she left her hometown to work in Singapore, to satisfy a need to travel as well as to give her savings account a boost. Five years later and she’s back in Manila, with a shiny new apartment to her name, but no job, no career, no boyfriend. She meets Ethan Lorenzo, the quiet hunk of an IT consultant on the ninth floor of her condo building, and he’s a welcome distraction during this period of having absolutely nothing going on in her life.

But she has a plan – of course she does – and this is just a short layover on the way to the next country, the next job, the next big thing. Or will she be missing out on something great that’s already there?

I’d already read the excerpt – the book’s first few chapters – on Wattpad, months ago. Back then, I knew I’d be pining for this book until it came out in paperback, but I also knew that longing would be caused mainly by Ethan. For a long time now my friends have branded me as a halaman, a plant – the term college kids use to describe contemporaries who don’t seem interested in romance, essentially being asexual, thus a plant. While I personally doubt this is true, I do go for a very specific type of guy. No to the boy everyone in my high school has had a crush on at one point of their lives, yes to the skinny kitchen staff from Project Pie because he said I was “welcome” as he handed me my request of three glasses of water. Ethan, I knew, was my type. Other people from other books – they grew on me.

Ethan was instant, lingering.

It then came as a pleasant surprise that the character I loved best among those in Welcome to Envy Park turned out not to be Ethan, but Moira herself. Ms Mina seems to prefer writing from a first-person perspective, a choice that allows readers better access to the innermost workings of the protagonist’s psyche, but in a rare burst of inspiration I suddenly wanted to be like this particular fictional character. As in – pattern my life, my personality, and my plans after her fictional ones. For all of her nitpicking and underground psychoanalyzing of oblivious neighbors, Moira still has a plan and the willpower to stick to it. I want to have a plan. I want to feel that internal push to go out there and happen to things.

I highly enjoyed Welcome to Envy Park because it’s not a “let’s fall in love, the world be damned” story. It’s about two strangers who happen to be attracted to each other even though they’re practically polar opposites – with her being a go-getter and him possessing the enviable ability to be contented wherever he is, whatever he’s got. Their main dilemma is that their paths are pointed in literally different geographical directions, and neither of them is keen on compromising for the sake of a relationship that may not even last.

Or maybe I’ve gotten it all wrong, and this – in the first place – is not meant to be read as a romance novel but as a chronicle of the repetitive days of an ambitious yuppie from Manila. Hm.

Either way, another thing I’ve realized is that Ms Mina will never need a murderous mother-in-law, a scandalous inheritance, or baby-switching to write an excellent book. She has the gift for laying out so clearly the ordinary things that are the real culprits for couples falling apart. Separate life plans, over-involved parent figures, falling in love not being the mature choice given certain inflexible circumstances – I always feel like I’m stepping into the life of a living, breathing twenty-something on the other side of Metro Manila. At the end of each book, as I was at the end of this one, I am happy for the heroine. She has found someone, and whether the two of them will work out eventually becomes a pointless argument. Because how do you begrudge a person happiness that is so raw, so real that it spills over into reality and makes you believe there’s a happy ending for you, too?

Guide Questions
For Book Club Discussions
(I don’t have a book club, so I’ll just answer these questions from the book on my own. Like an English Lit book review, only no cryptic, silver-haired, Anglo-Saxon gentlemen from the 19th century for authors.)

1. What do you know about “quarter life crisis”? Do you think it’s a legitimate stage one might go through while in their twenties?

As a human in my twenties, I firmly believe that my peers and I are fully capable of experiencing “quarter life crisis”. This phase, while remarkably less hormonal than puberty, is nonetheless characterized by verbalized existentialist questions, rant-fests disguised as get-togethers, and the unfortunate tendency to thumb through old family albums and think, “I was so happy then.”

The responses of individuals to quarter life crises are, however, diverse and tedious to monitor. There are instances wherein the most proud and determined persons may emerge from interactions with their inner child with the desire to one day become spinsters who will adopt stray cats and collect B-grade shredders from CDR King. In other cases, survivors of untold battles with their personal demons may fly to other countries with no promises of job security, romantic prospects, or even the comforts of tapsilog.

Children find the concept of quarter life crises unimaginable given they are generally unable to visualize potential situations more hurtful than their crushes replying to Facebook prompts sans smiley emoji, and the old and the wise have no time to assemble their faded memories in the face of Meralco bills, MRT fare hikes, and Jun-jun’s pending tuition loan. Theoretically, the “quarter life crisis” exists. But it can only be felt and fully appreciated if you are suffering it, in the middle of it, and with no impending exits from the highway of self-perceived poor life choices.

2. If you’re currently a Filipino resident, do you have plans of moving to another country soon? What are your reasons for doing so?

For the modern Filipino it is inconceivable to never have imagined migrating elsewhere, not with the countless television commercials glamorized to make families of foreign workers spend their hard-earned cash. While that girl from the Alaska milk ad points out select furniture and appliances to her father on video call, isn’t it so easy to imagine how many iPhone upgrades, how many Victoria’s Secret panties, how many near-identical corporate blazers from H&M you can buy if you line up for processing on POEA?

Of course, I have thought of it. My mother works abroad – of course, I have thought of it.

Regardless of personal preferences, I am not at a position to reject what crumbs the heavens may deign to chuck in my direction in the next few months. I may be going abroad for a long time within the year, or I may not. If I do go abroad, it will probably because a Google search by one of my well-meaning relatives or friends will have churned out a foreign grad school scholarship that conveniently requires assets I happen to possess. If I don’t go abroad, it will probably be due to bad news. So while I don’t want to obsess over how I’m supposed to survive in sub-zero weather with the threat of wild bears breaking and entering into my home in search of Cheerios, me leaving the Philippines will probably be due to good news. Fingers crossed I am crossing borders by June.

3. We all have relatives and/or friends abroad. Under what circumstances do you see them moving again, either back to the Philippines or another country entirely?

From what I hear, returning to the Philippines has much to do with end of contract agreements. On a more positive note, however, as Moira Vasquez mentions on p. 49, the local economy may be looking much livelier. This, in turn, attracts people who may have either: a) gone abroad due to lack of decent pay here, or b) gone abroad because the Philippines cannot accommodate their daring life plans, which may for instance include dreams of writing theories on how the speed of light can slow down in a vacuum. (Exhibit A: Dr. Jacqueline Romero of the University of Glasgow.)

With regards to Filipinos going abroad, see arguments a and b cited above. As of this writing, there are no other common reasons for locals migrating permanently, except perhaps having family abroad, or having romantic interests abroad. Recent trends in local television and cinema tell us that planning cross-country surprise marriage proposals is not a good idea because one will always open the apartment door to find an unfamiliar foreigner standing in potential fiancée’s house, looking perfectly at ease, but that is a different topic altogether. (Exhibit B: ABS-CBN’s Dream Dad and, a bit of a stretch, MMFF’s English Only Please.)

4. Have you ever lived in a condo building? Do you know who your neighbors are, and what they do?

I’ve only lived in my family home, in four different university dormitories, and – for the past four years – out of two different rooms on the upper floors of two different houses – with actual families and their various pets living on the ground floor, mind you – so I don’t know what it’s like to live in a condo building. Even though I’ve only ever lived in relatively “traditional” set-ups, I’ve not been gifted with the patience for small talk so I don’t know who my neighbors are. I do know which pets belong behind which fences.

5. Moira spent five years in another country but is faced with having to start over with a brand new career. Roxie spent the same amount of time focused on one career and workplace, but doesn’t have the same “life experience.” Who made the better choice?

I applaud both Moira and Roxie for being strong, independent women with the guts to stick to their life choices. Moira had the advantage of having the opportunity to situate herself in a new environment, therefore enabling her to absorb best practices from foreign sources. Roxie had the advantage of commitment – of planting seeds that have already taken root and which are already starting to bear fruit. (Hey. That rhymes.) Neither made the better choice because for each of their personalities, their respective paths worked out for the best.

If I had to choose which of the two given paths I would prefer to take, however, I would choose Roxie’s. For once, I want to know what it feels like to not have to pack and unpack all your belongings every few months, the feeling of knowing it’s all right to buy as many tissues and shoes as you want because you have the storage space for them.

But, alas. Life.

6. Would you put your career move on hold for love? Did Ethan make the right decision?

I’m not working yet – this should have been obvious, if you’ve made it to the end of this virtual attempt at a one-woman comedy bar – but I cannot imagine myself putting my career on hold for anything, much less for a reason as abstract as love. I think, however, that Ethan chose well because for once, he made a decision on his own instead of waiting to see where the wind might take him. I find it interesting how – in the romances that have made me feel the most hopeful at least – the best love stories always have characters who compromised on their previous projections of how love is supposed to be. The decision to commit always begs a price, and because Ethan is well aware of this, he should be fine.

Works Cited
Esguerra, Mina V. Welcome to Envy Park. Mandaluyong: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2015.

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