Every shrine or temple we visited in Hanoi had statues of The Crane on the Turtle... usually 2 statues, one on each side. I was curious about the significance of this ubiquitious pair, so I asked Bien, our guide. And he told us such a very pretty story.
The turtle and the crane, said he, represents friendship and co-operation. In days gone past, a flood arrived upon the plains of Vietnam. The crane flew hither and thither but found no place to rest his wings. He stayed in the air for a long time and was about to drop with exhaustion when a young turtle arose out of the flood waters and offered his back to the tired bird to rest upon. In this manner, the turtle kept the crane alive long enough for flood waters to recede.
The crane owed the turtle an eternal debt. The 2 stayed in close touch, one a creature of the skies and the other a creature of the lakes. They grew old together for both are long lived creatures. And it came to pass that a terrible drought passed through Vietnam. It was a drought so long and so thirsty that it drank up all the water in the turtle's lake. Many animals died. The crane could not bear to see his friend perish. With a supreme effort (for the old turtle was heavy and the old crane was weak) the crane heft the turtle up into the air and carried him to another lake far away.
There, the 2 animals lived together in reciprocity... helping and caring for each other until each passed into the mists of time only errrr... to appear again on Petunia's blog.
This fairytale is told to little children in every village, and it teaches the value of helping each other and caring for one another. In every place of worship, one can find effigies of The Crane Upon The Turtle. To me, it speaks volumes about how the Vietnamese defeated not one but TWO world powers in wars. This is a warm and friendly people with deep undercurrents of ferocity and determination made more redoubtable because their social bonds are so strong.
One mustn't underestimate the power of symbols. The crane and the turtle is not just a pretty story. When they listen to this story at their Mother's breast, Vietnamese children imbibe important values along with Mother's milk. The effigies of the crane upon the turtle is found in every place of worship. In places where the Vietnamese go to for purification, this symbol is the pure distillate of the values of love and co-operation between diverse peoples and different individuals. As people go about their lives, they are tempted to anger and selfishness... but there are reminders at important festivals and ceremonies of what the Vietnamese should be and should aspire to.
I tried but could not find anything like this in my Singapore. We worship money you see. Our purest icons are all about what money can buy - the BMW, the Mercedes, the Marina Bay sands. We've gained so much and lost our soul.