Friday, July 01, 2011

The Dragon of Huangshan

Earlier this week a friend on Facebook posted a link to a fascinating story about a mirage that formed over the river in the Chinese city of Huangshan (or "Huanshan," per the article):

Ghostly mirage appears over river in Huanshan City, China - (UK Daily Mail) Mail Online

Now, if this were true, it would be the most remarkable version of a Fata Morgana I had ever heard of. The Fata Morgana is a large-scale mirage that can cause distant landscapes to appear in a twisted, distorted manner, displayed above the horizon. It is rare and amazing, but not unknown. Still, for these buildings and trees to appear so clearly, so sharply, seemingly just a few hundred yards down the river...

Well, it turned out that they looked like that because they were, in fact, just a few hundred yards down the river. Some online commentators had suggested this was all the result of a sloppy translation, perhaps of people saying "Look how lovely it is to see these buildings floating in the mist," and some overeager writer decided to fabricate a story around it, and that's exactly what it was.

I took a quick visit to Huangshan after I saw the initial report. Not in person, of course, but via Google Earth. And it looked like a nice place. Lovely river, lots of bridges, lots of views downriver, almost all of which would include some buildings along the way.

(According to the second linked article, the "mirage" is actually a view of buildings on the boat-shaped island on the lower left.)

I zoomed in and took a look at the city in close-up. It looks very nice. Lots of things that looked like residences, and some tidy, clean things that were either industrial facilities, or educational centers, or maybe government buildings of some sort. I zoomed in closer to one bridge, where it seemed like the landscaping on one bank left something to be desired. And I noticed something else in the river.

What is that thing? It's just by itself, not connected to anything. Apparently parallel to the course of the river, but nearly one third as long as the river is wide. And on closer inspection, it appeared to have...

...humps! For all the world, this looks like a humpty-backed bright golden dragon, swimming along the Xinan River through the city of Huangshan. Heck, it even looks like there's a head at one end - in the shadow, anyway. (Though if those two lines in the second picture are actually a trailing wake, the "dragon" is traveling backwards!)

So what is it? I doubt the Google Earth satellite image just happened to catch a dragon swimming in a river through Huangshan City. Could it be a hoax, or a prank? I doubt it. It's not like Google announces when the satellites that they'll use to make the Google Earth images are passing over, like when the Street View trucks are driving through town. And this isn't like the local case where someone used fertilizer to draw an obscene picture in a field for the satellite to catch on its next pass. So is this a ship of some sort, or maybe some large piece of industrial equipment being transported by barge? Or maybe even a permanent tourist attraction, a one hundred and twenty foot long dragon statue in the river?

I have no idea. I didn't see anything about such a tourist attraction in my admittedly brief readings about Huangshan. I suppose I could research it further. But until I find out, it will be a mystery - one of many such mysteries lurking in  the images on Google Earth.


D.B. Echo said...

This post has been linked to from here:

Melody said...

Wow, ouch! Your sunburn seems even more painful than mine! At least I can still wear regular clothes (not that I have left my pajamas since I went to the beach, anyway).

I really liked this article. Lately I've been really interested in this kind of stuff, so it was refreshing to see something like this.

'I doubt the Google Earth satellite image just happened to catch a dragon swimming in a river through Huangshan City.' Well, you never know. Although, if I have to admit, Google Earth hasn't updated my city's satellite images since 2006 -.-

D.B. Echo said...

Compare the humpty-backed "dragon" to this dragon-shaped bridge in Vietnam: