Bulalo and Solidarity

Sometimes we learn important life lessons from people who've come before us, our parents, older relatives, teachers, etc. Sometimes we become inspired by something we read in a book or online and it becomes the guiding principle in our lives.

This story is about neither of those things.

It was Jan., 1, 2017, and me and my friends spent the New Year's holidays at another friend's house in Batangas. As we were packing up to leave that afternoon, we decided to have dinner at Tagaytay City, and have their famous beef bulalo. Good stuff and if done well, it is to DIE for. If you have a heart condition, you might actually do because of the amount of cholesterol in the warm and delicious soup.

Conveniently enough, the jeepney terminal for the climb up the mountainside road going up to Tagaytay City was just a five-minute walk from our dear host's home, who was coming along with us to Metro Manila to go back to work after the holidays. Having known each other for the better part of a decade, our group has developed a kind of weird sponteneity that leads to ideas like:

“Wouldn't it be cool if we just climbed up to Tagaytay instead?”

I don't remember who mentioned it anymore, but I remember the “Are you SERIOUS right now” grin I was wearing after hearing that, knowing it was gonna be met with woots and other positive reactions from the rest. Not wanting to leave the relative peacefulness of the Philippine countryside for the dirt, smoke and noise of the Metro, I found myself agreeing to this ridiculous idea.

I did NOT know what I was getting myself into.

At the foot of Ligaya Drive, the road that goes up the mountainous trail up to Tagaytay, we pulled up a map online and got an estimate travel time of two and a half hours worth of walking. “Sounds doable”, “Sure”, “Okay then” and other remarks to that effect met the result. And against the better judgement of ourselves, the jeepney drivers at the terminal and onlookers, we began the ascent.

Now, I would like it to be known that the reason why my friends were so confident about the climb is that on top of the path being mostly a four-lane asphalt highway, two out of five of our group had prior experience with climbing mountains. Unlike myself, who was out of shape and had absolutely no experience in mountaineering.

The slope kept getting steeper and steeper until it came to a point where a single wrong step would've ended in us rolling down the asphalt. Add that to the fact that walking up an incline takes more out of you than on level ground, and soon I am out of breath, my heart was trying to bash its way out of my chest and my legs feel like wet, heavy clay dipped in pure PAIN. I obviously wasn't the only one feeling the pressure as we took breaks every 20 or so minutes.

Half of the way through, I was starting to get asthma attacks and our 10-minute breaks started turning into 20-30 min breaks so I could recover, but none of my friends made me feel bad about causing the delay or give me shit about being weak. Later on, they even took turns in carrying my bag for me. They started playing music and singing to the tune of Porter Robinson's “Shelter” during the last quarter of the climb. During the final steps up into the city, when we all looked out into the overlooking view of Batangas and Laguna, their lights looking like distant stars spread out into the cosmos, only then did I realize that I couldn't have, wouldn't have done this alone.

I would have given up if I was alone. I would've given up if my friends had left me there.

We climbed the same mountain together and faced the same challenges, but our individual limitations and vulnerabilities made the journey different for each of us. But, everyone understood each other's limits, helping where they can, and standing together for them where they can't. What would've been a hellish experience for me if I did it alone, was turned into one of my best in recent memory by being together with people that understood me, and had the same goals as me.

This unity has a name, and that name is “Solidarity.”

Where others are united by common hatred, greed or ambition, or even common strengths, their unity is fractured by competition and destroyed by their perceived weaknesses in each other. On the other hand, where individuals, recognizing each other's differences, background, vulnerabilities and needs, unite under a shared goal, their bond is unbreakable. There won't be a contest of “who's more” or “who's stronger” unlike those united because of shared strengths because one does not seek to enforce respect, only to lose it at the first sign of weakness. There will be instead only the comfort in knowing that someone understands you, and has gone through (and is going through) the same shit as you do. Add a common purpose to the mix and you have yourself a potent cocktail for social change.

Even if that purpose happens to be as simple as having Bulalo for dinner at Tagatay City.