Sunday, July 08, 2018

Watching Sue Perkins and "Mekong"

Four evenings last week --- or parts of them --- were devoted to watching Sue Perkins' "The Mekong River" --- a relief from the recent Trump-o-centric focus of nearly every U.S. media outlet and communications medium. Whew.

But as they might say, Trumps will come and Trumps will go --- but the Mekong goes on forever, more or less.

Perkins is a widely known British television comedian and presenter, most noted perhaps for her former hosting duties on "The Great British Bake Off," a series I've not watched. The Mekong was produced for BBC2 during 2014 and currently is available on Netflix.

Mekong received mixed reviews --- many of them along the lines of "too much Sue, too little river." But then that's a criticism likely to be directed at any host --- celebrity or otherwise --- of a program like this. 

She's earnest, funny, empathetic and occasionally rather profound, so I enjoyed the trip upriver with Perkins from Vietnam's Mekong Delta to the great river's source in the Tibetan Plateau, especially as she met and interacted with peoples of the river in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and China.

Did I ever tell you that I once lived in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) for a year --- then served with several others as Iowa sponsors for a family of Laotian refugees, the Luangnikones --- see, I remember how to spell the surname. Probably. Or that I'm currently rereading "The Dhammapada," part of a continuing journey to consider if Buddhism is less hazardous to humanity than Christianity? 

But all these factors generate moments of homesickness during programs like this.

Anyhow, large hydropower projects fueled by China have affected and will continue to affect the nature of the Mekong, reshaping the lives of millions --- among the reasons given for this series, advertised as an opportunity to see the river and its peoples in their more or less natural states before unalterable changes occur.

One of the curiosities of life in the United States at the moment is the peculiar notion that some form of "greatness" once existed here and that, with the right leader, we can get back to it. When in fact, America always has been a work in progress, and still is. The jury continues to consider our current status.

But it never hurts to remember that China was great before the United States was dreamed of --- and has risen again, from the ashes of the Cultural Revolution, in the East. Or the fact that Vietnam, too, is developing into an economic powerhouse. Or that Cambodia continues to struggle to recover from the reign of another strong man intent on dragging his country back to the good old days, Pol Pot, whose Khmer Rouge killed 2-3 million people 1975-1978 while striving to make Democratic Kampuchea great again.

"Mekong" pulls a number of these threads and others together in a fast-moving and very watchable way and serves as a reminder that there are indeed more things (and fascinating people) in heaven and earth than many myopic Americans care to dream of.

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