Did turtles really use to live in the water there?

THERE WERE NEVER live turtles in Turtle Lake. That’s not even its official name, but rather, the folk name for the artificial pond built between 1965 and 1967 at the junction of Vo Van Tan, Pham Ngoc Thach, and Tran Cao Van in D1. The site has been associated with turtles since long before there was a lake there – The very first structure to stand there was the gate of old Qui City – ‘Qui’ meaning ‘turtle’. In the French colonial era, it was a water tower, and after that a monument to French power.

But the real source of the name today is the metal alloy turtle bearing a stone plaque that once resided on the bridge over the ‘lake’. It was put there under the order of Nguyen Van Thieu, who came into office in the 1960s. Thieu invited a famous feng shui master to oversee the structure and layout of Saigon. The master praised the location of the Presidential Palace (now the Reunification Palace) saying that it sat right on top of the head of an earth dragon that would bring wealth and power to the owner. At the same time, he also warned Thieu that the tail of the dragon, unpinned and uncontrolled, would bring about great discord and destroy the wealth created by the dragon’s head. This ‘dragon’s tail’ just happened to sit right under the French Soldier Monument.

So plans were made for something new to control the earth dragon. The blueprint was created by architect Nguyen Ky, and the new structure was to feature sword-like columns to pin down the dragon’s tail, and a large metal turtle to seal away its power. Take a close look at the monument today, and you’ll see its resemblance to the hilt of a sword thrust deep into the earth.

So what happened to the turtle? In 1978, it was destroyed by a group of protesters. The event gave rise to multiple rumors and wild theories about a secret chamber that might be hidden beneath the structure – discrepancies in the official construction record did suggest that there could be an underground vault that would account for a missing national treasure: two tons of solid gold. The theory was the subject of a book entitled The Curious Case of Turtle Lake, which was published in 1982 – decades later, many questions remain. The turtle, however, is history.

Do you have a myth you want us to bust? Email us at saigonmythbusters@oivietnam.com.