They call it the Throat of China, the first narrows east of Shanghai on the Yangzi River. Throughout history you had to pass this point to get from Shanghai to Beijing by road or rail, and just a mile from here Mao built his great bridge in 1960. The quaint old ferry terminal with its little Ben clock tower still stands, but the coaling dock next to it is now a post-modern museum, and the 1930’s power station across the street has been bulldozed to make way for high-rise, river-view apartments.
And that was the gig - a handful of songs to show our white(-ish) faces and impress the newly-rich customers of the real estate company. As usual, there was a lot of hanging around, smoking, waiting.
So since it was a good spring day and the sun was out, we crossed the street to check out the power station museum, stand on the gantry and get high looking across the river, joined by our lovely featuring singer Kate Soul. Out in mid stream, an endless flow of barges. Closer in, the ferry cut through the flat water.
Dave - “Did you see that?”
Lads - “See what?”
It was good weed.
Dave - “There, look - out near the ferry… watch”
We all watched the barely-rippling water, only floating junk and pollution to be seen. Had Dave finally lost the plot?
Suddenly a series of grey-brown humps broke the surface.
George - “Fuck, what was that?”
Andres - “Fuck, yeah! Big fish maybe?”
More shining humps broke the surface.
George - “Fuck no, that’s no fish, it’s some kind of monster!”
High and fevered minds conjured up nightmare visions of strange mutant creatures, spawned by unimaginable pollutants, lurking in the toxic depths of the Yangzi.
Dave - “No my friends, those are Yangzi River dolphins.”
George - “Dolphins? In this shitty water? No fucking way! I tell you man, it’s a monster!”
Suddenly another grey brown back cleared the water and squirted a little plume of vapor into the air.
Andres - “Did you see that? It blew out some water! Maybe it is a dolphin!”
George - "Get the fuck outta here!"
This went on for fifteen minutes as George became increasingly convinced that we were all off our heads. We pointed him at the sightings. Kate even saw them. But he wasn't to be persuaded.
In the end there was only one way to go - Wikipedia!
The baiji is a functionally extinct species of freshwater dolphin formerly found only in the Yangtze River in China. Nicknamed "Goddess of the Yangtze" the dolphin is also called Chinese river dolphin, Yangtze River dolphin, and Yangtze dolphin. It was regarded as the goddess of protection by local fishermen and boatmen in China.
George - “Fuck, Dave is right! There are Yangzi River dolphins! But it says here they’re dead, and look - we can see them for ourselves!”
Which naturally deserved a song…
“Oh yeah, Beautiful Baiji, Soon you’ll be the Goddess of the Yangzi.”
It was a beautiful thought, to imagine that the scientists were wrong, and that a cool species written off as extinct was actually alive and well. But if we hadn’t all been so high, we might have read to the end of the paragraph - “…Not to be confused with the finless porpoise.”
Oh well, never mind.
There ARE dolphins in the River Yangzi.
And Baiji IS the goddess of the Yangzi.