Hoan Kiem Lake

Hanoi. Beautiful, green, charming, well designed, oh and did I mention the overabundance of astounding street food? This place is relaxing even though it has true city grit. 

The old quarter in Hanoi has been around for over 1,000 years. Its street systems have remained largely intact, with stretches of boulevard devoted to specific trades and goods. You find your silk street, your shoe street as well your modern appliance and sunglasses street. From a competitive market stand point you think this bombardment of similarity might hurt sales, but from a local point of view I am always reassured - 'you always know where to look!' 

Hoan Kiem Lake, or Lake of the Restored Sword, is at the heart of this old quarter. Beautifully shaped, decently sized and surrounded by a wonderful walking path, this lake is the central gathering place in the city. It is where people go. It has consistent beauty, but even more important historical significance.

Legend has it that Le Loi, the Vietnamese King who liberated his country from the Ming Occupation in 1427, had a special sword. A sword from the heavens which gave him strength of  a thousand men. A sword which was destined to him by the Dragon King, albeit in two separate pieces. Through a series of fate, Le Loi became connected to this sword, saw its glow and was able to reunite the blade and hilt. Most people now say this reunification of the sword was the reason Vietnam had the power to overcome the Ming Occupation. Le Loi is considered a hero. So we go back to the old quarter after the war ends, and Le Loi is on this lake with his precious sword. All of a sudden a large, seemingly out of place turtle rises from the depths and snaps at his weapon, loosening Le Loi's grip and eventually taking it as his own. Most people say that this mysterious turtle was the Golden Turtle god, taking action to return the sword to a higher world, where it belonged. This myth has been told and retold over the years because, of course, all search for the sword have failed. 

Interestingly, to take a scientific turn, there is in fact a large species of turtle living in this lake. The turtle seen is over 6 feet in length, weighing around 500 pounds. Scientists believe this could be a Yangtze giant softshell turtle, but local authorities think the individual in Hoan Kiem diverged into a species of its own a long time ago. Regardless, there are only 4 known individuals left in both of these groups combined. These are amazing creatures, large and in charge. They are incredibly sneaky, and are rarely spotted. It wasn't until 1998 that an actual turtle was seen in Hoan Kiem - reinvigorating this myth and proving to scientists that a large turtle species does indeed exist in this old city.

In 2011 the large creature began surfacing and was seen by many people, a strange course of action for this creature to take. The animal was in poor health, from the deterioration of the lake ecosystem due to runoff. She was eventually caught and treated on the temple, which sits in the middle of the lake. She is such a rare species, in such an unusual place, with so much power and history associated with her, it was a real serious matter to get her well again.

With the turtle in decent health after a doctor's appointment and a dredging of the river, it is exciting and nerve-wracking to think about the future.  The lake will surely become polluted again. This turtle might never breed again. By many it is believed to be the only individual left of it's kind. But there is hope. The government has implemented certain runoff parameters to protect the turtle, as well as installed floating plant racks for water filtration using certain reeds - A very similar proposition to what John Todd Ecological Design routinely does. And when it comes to breeding, some hopefuls think they have spotted two younger turtles in the depths. 

Trees in blossom, Summer 2011

Southern Edge of Hoan Kiem

Filtration (Don't worry, there are many)