Phở is distinctly Vietnamese. Beef noodle soup describes what phở is, but phở is known throughout the world as a Vietnamese cuisine. Phở was thought to originate from a French dish, pot au feu, or “pot on the fire”, signifying the long hours required to create the soup. Similar to phở, it’s made from cartilaginous, marrow-rich beef bones cooked for hours along with roasted ginger, onions, and star anise to create the rich broth. Vietnamese cooks adapted this soup into its own culture, substituting carrots and turnips with rice noodles while adding bean sprouts, lime and fish sauce to make it distinctly Vietnamese. Eventually, the words “pot au” were dropped and only feu was kept. Since the Vietnamese alphabet uses the letters “ph” instead of the letter “f”, pho became word common to millions of people worldwide as a distinctly Vietnamese dish.
The Vietnamese people had to be adaptive in order to survive as ethnic group during the thousand years of Chinese occupation. Forced by the occupiers to conform to their culture, language, and traditions, our Vietnamese ancestors resisted their domination by adapting what was forced upon them and changing it enough to make it distinctly Vietnamese. For example, Vietnamese were forced to use Chinese characters or Chử Hán as their official language for centuries until the 13th century when Vietnamese scholars modified and created new characters to make it distinctly Vietnamese. The new language was called Chử Nôm.
Vietnamese don’t celebrate Chinese New Year. We celebrate Tết. Chinese women wear dresses known as qipao or cheongsam, but Vietnamese women added long pants to the dress and made it an “áo dài” instead. The subtle differences are the result of the resilient spirit of the Vietnamese people to adapt and not conform in order to maintain our distinctly Vietnamese culture that has been passed on for many generations. A similar adaptation is seen with scouting in Vietnam.
Hướng Đạo came to Vietnam in the 1930s during the time when Vietnam was fighting for independence from the French colonial rule for nearly a hundred years. While Hướng Đạo utilizes many core principles of scouting founded by Lord Baden Powell, it was adapted to include our culture and traditions to make Hướng Đạo distinctly Vietnamese. Hướng Đạo is often translated to English as scouting, but it’s inaccurate to make this direct translation. Beef noodle soup describes what phở is just like scouting describes what HướngĐạo is, but phở is a distinct word on its own similar to Hướng Đạo.
To understand better, let’s look back at the history of scouting. In 1899, Lord Robert Baden-Powell introduced Scouting when he wrote his sixth military book, Aids To Scouting, during the 2nd Boer War. It was a training manual filled with personal stories and even games. The goal was to develop light reconnaissance scouting skills within the British Army, but surprisingly, the book was adopted by teachers and youth groups to organize outdoor activities and sports. Lord Baden-Powell eventually embraced the idea of adapting his work to write a new youth-oriented book, Scouting for Boys, in 1908. This book went on to sell more than 150 million copies to date and started the Boy Scout Movement.
The Vietnamese translation for scout is “thám hiểm.” So how did we get the word Hướng Đạo then?
The word “Hướng” has different meanings depending on how you use it. It can mean geographical direction or guidance. “Đạo” has a spiritual emphasis of a path or journey. When combined, “Hướng Đạo” means leading a path or journey. Is it leading our own journey in life to be a better person to society, or leading by example in guiding others?
There may be other meanings to the word Hướng Đạo, but clearly it doesn’t translate to the word “scout.” Therefore, we need to use Hướng Đạo as a stand-alone word that cannot be translated to English, similar to the words Liên Đoàn or phở.
Hướng Đạo further evolved and adapted to the changes in Vietnam recent history. The Hướng Đạo movement grew in popularity in Vietnam until 1975. Communist Vietnam banned Hướng Đạo after the Fall of Saigon because the duty to God belief was incompatible with their teachings.
As refugees fled Vietnam in search for freedom, many brought the Hướng Đạo spirit with them, organizing Hướng Đạo activities in refugee camps. When they arrive in countries that took them in as refugees, they began to organize Hướng Đạo troops to fill the gap for young teenagers and adults who left their homeland and family behind. The earliest troop in the United States started at Camp Pendleton and the first Vietnamese troop was formed in Santa Ana under the name Kha Đoàn Hướng Việt, registering as Explorer Post 304 (in honor of Black April).
In the early 1980s, more and more Liên Đoàn Hướng Đạo formed, attracting youths to join the Hướng Đạo Movement. Over time, Liên Đoàn began to adapt to their new countries. In the United States, many Liên Đoàn embraced Boys Scouts of America (BSA) and Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) programs, incorporating these scouting activities along their own program, while in Canada and Australia, they embraced their national scouting organizations. But at its core, these Liên Đoàn still operate with the Hướng Đạo spirit, the internal flame that burns passionately for many who only have each other for support and friendship. This was their second family.