Ice is to the Eskimos as kanin, bigas, bagas, tutong, sangag, bahaw, mumo (ghost?) is to the Filipinos (list down the many ethnolinguistic groups, from the Isneg on the North to the Sama Dilaut on the South and these kanin-permutations are permitted to fly further.
Something that is a classic example in sociolinguistics, or cultural linguistics (will my former Linguistics Professor Mam Beth, reprove me now?): how culture and language interplay, so that for Americans, rice is called “rice,” whether it’s cooked or not, leftover or fresh. For us Pinoys, alam mo na ang kaibahan.
Have you imagined calling “ice”/yelo in different terms? My imaginations are weak, “ice” only with appendages rather than novel terms: ice tubig, iced coffee, mais con yelo, ice buko, ice cream. It’s just “yelo” and “ice,” just crossovers from one language to another. In Field Notes from a Catastrophe (see page 8), Elizabeth Kolbert wrote that “although the claim that the Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow is an exaggeration, the Inupiat make distinctions among many different types of ice, including sikuliaq, ‘young ice,’ sarri, ‘pack ice’ and tuvaq, ‘land-locked ice’.”
Here, in mid-March Manila, ice flirts with opulence not through linguistic terms but through whetting imageries of what can placate the sweltering heat: the palate speaks through a list, like the one I made above, ice tubig, iced coffee, mais con yelo, ice buko, ice cream. Words that travel through your tongue; what’s sliding down your head is not body sweat but refrigerator sweat—check that, not refrigerator sweat, but freezer sweat.
In the titular story from Gabriella Lee’s collection Instructions on How to Disappear, seven tips were given on how to – well, surprise surprise – disappear. In the process, the protagonist Sue/Susan slowly, well, disappears, although I prefer the term, “transforms” into ice. Instruction no. 7 (“Clean your room”) at the beginning saw Susan feeling “the cold, tendrils of ice seeping underneath your skin. You hear your fingers crackle as they change, morph into something other than flesh and blood” (204). In Instruction no. 4 (“Hide from your friends”), Sue “start[ed] to transform again: your hand is becoming translucent, reflecting the mood lights mounted at the corners of the bar” (212). On the last, and unironic, Instruction no. 1 (“Close your eyes”), Sue/Susan “want[ed] to cry, but lately your tears have started becoming crystalline before they even fall. There are thin cuts around your eyes and down your cheeks where the tears have traced their path” (220).
I recall a discussion during undergrad literary class, on Dante’s Inferno, on how, in one of the circles of hell, the punishment is the deprivation of the ability to cry, to shed tears. I recall marveling at how our teacher, Mam Grace, rendered the misery of this punishment, and also its aptness—living up to its name—its deadpan devilishness: something like, how wretched, or pitiful it is, losing the ability to cry, to express one’s pain and suffering. Of course, she did not say that in those words; my memory is as fragile as Duterte’s phallus.
Having gradually turned into ice, Sue was robbed of the ability to cry, sikuliaq starting to age and bore holes in her bodice. Maybe the Eskimos and the Inupiat have a term for a person entirely covered in ice? Isn’t that sometimes the wish of non-Baguio people, sipping the sunniness of climate-changing summer: to be covered in ice, symbolically syempre. R these imaginings as Ridiculous as the petty observation that between “ice” and “rice,” there’s just “R” getting in the way? R u feeling the thumb of conclusion; do u c how this ends?