23 June 2015


Option 34: Welcome to Envy Park by Mina V. Esguerra
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and see the Giveaways page for more details)

Five years in Singapore and I could feel it coming on, the rut. I was comfortable, I liked my job, I was able to make the payments on my modest property investment. It could have gone on for another year, or three, or even longer, easily. All of my friends from Manila, who had come over "to try it out" for a year" that eventually became three then five then ten, they were settling in just fine. Inertia took over, and the new city began to feel more like home than actual home.

But not for me. I sensed it coming, that poor-me ennui that made me pack up and leave Manila in the first place . . .

And that was over, I was back, and now I had an apartment, a small amount saved up, and an empty calendar.

What was next?

If Moira Vasquez were a character from a novel by Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose, or Bienvenido Santos, her "poor-me ennui" would have the weight of an entire nation's star-crossed wanderlust. Since she is a Mina V. Esguerra character, she gets off more easily. She is an individual who just happens to be a modern Filipina and whose choices don't have to be anyone's business but her own. As much as I love our Giveaway heavyweights, even I need a break from their message that even those who are not interested in the war can't escape the war's being interested in them. And with Esguerra, I get to lighten up.

Which isn't to say that light Chick Lit should be silent on society: Welcome to Envy Park has a few critical things to say, but the commentary doesn't steal the spotlight from the story.

The plan was this:

Fly back home and deal with condo turnover paperwork.

Buy furniture.

Live in the new place from six months to a year, however long it would take to get a new Real Job.

Take temporary Not-Real Jobs to finance Real Job search.

Find a renter for the one-bedroom.

Fly to Hong Kong, or Thailand, or Cambodia--ideal location of Real Job.

Perhaps the most unexpected thing about Welcome to Envy Park was seeing myself in it. I normally have nothing in common with Chick Lit protagonists and find it hard to relate to the majority of my own peers. And this novel is told in the first person by a Chick Lit protagonist who would, if she existed, totally be my peer. Yet while I know that she and I would never be friends, that's only in the sense that I and some girls I went to the same school with for thirteen years never became friends. You don't need to be friends to be sisters.

That's why, although I'd never seek a corporate gig in Singapore, Hong Kong, or any of Moira's dream countries (my interest in our Asian neighbours being virtually nil), I know exactly where she means when she thinks of opportunities the Philippines as "Not-Real" and everything she could find abroad as "Real." And I suspect that everyone in our generation has the same fear that "Real" life is passing us by while we live in these "Not-Real" islands, never seeing how full and vibrant our world actually is. 

To Esgeurra's credit, she makes a good case for Manila being the full and vibrant city of its wandering Manilenos' dreams. And though I've spent years growling over the residential high-rise trend (while having lived in two condominiums--sigh!), I have to admit that she makes condo life seem appealing. Instead of the anonymity of living in stacked-up boxes, Moira and her neighbours find the potential for a real community, where even friends and family members who live elsewhere are welcome. Esguerra isn't just reaching, either: my family's first condominium was in a building where neighbours only ran into each other in the elevators or the cramped lobby. But the newest projects, one of which we find ourselves in now, have sprawling pool areas, communal gyms, tennis courts, rooms for all sorts of games (billiards, darts, ping pong, even PlayStation and Xbox), and other places that are good as a suburban community centre. And I'm starting to feel as if I'm turning the perfect into the enemy of the good.

Envy Park is a play on NV Park, the building where Moira's bought a temporary one-bedroom condo, but also the perfect name for the state in which of she we and her our peers live. For the fear of missing out almost always blossoms into envy at what others have. And when others try to explain that they didn't get that great a deal, either, we don't want to listen. For if all those fantastic things we don't have aren't where we thought they were, we're back to square one, aren't we?

Well, Welcome to Envy Park suggests that square one may just be where all those goodies have been all this time. A thesis I can get behind. I probably won't be reading all the other books in Esguerra's Chic Manila series, because we're just never going to be friends, but it was great to visit her dynamic vision of our shared city and be a little more optimistic about it than I was last week.

You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . your idea of an exotic foreign adventure is living and working in another country for at least a year.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Image Source: Confessions of a Volcano by Eric Gamalinda


Jenny said...

It sounds like a cute book and while it may be light and fluffy sometimes it's good to have some light and fluffy.

Enbrethiliel said...


It's definitely light, but when read in the context of more serious Philippine literature with the same themes, it manages to transcend being merely fluffy. =)