Violence against women in Vietnam

Vietnam has progressed a lot for the last few decades, both economically and socially. Nonetheless, there are still major issues that we have to face and violence against women is one of them. A recently published study shed light on this particular issue and some of the findings are both horrifying and embarrassing to me. I want to share them here because I believe in the transparency and in the fact that we can’t advance as a nation without looking squarely at our problems.

What is this study about? How was it organized?

The 2019 study consists of three parts: the quantitative study; the qualitative study; and economic costing of violence against women.

The quantitative component of the study (the “survey”) was conducted by the General Statistics Office at the request of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA). This included reviewing and testing questionnaires, interviewer training, fieldwork and data processing. The quantitative study is a household survey covering all six regions of Viet Nam and is nationally representative. A multistage sample design was used to select a sample of 6,000 households. A total of 5,976 women aged between 15 and 64 completed a face-to-face interview with a trained female interviewer.The qualitative component of the study was conducted by the Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population (CCIHP).

The qualitative study aimed to: provide a context for violence against women by intimate partners; triangulate the quantitative results; gain insights and explanations for quantitative data that are unexplained; and explore related issues that by their nature could not be studied through a quantitative survey. Data was gathered through in-depth interviews, key informant interviews and focus-group discussions. A total of 269 participants, including women with disabilities and from ethnic minorities, as well as 11 key informants, provided information and shared their experiences for the qualitative research.

Lastly, the study component on economic costing of violence against women was carried out by UNFPA Viet Nam in cooperation with several local and international consultants.UNFPA Viet Nam managed the overall process with technical assistance from the kNOwVAWdata Initiative (a partnership between the UNFPA Asia and the Pacific Regional Office and the Australian Government). The entire study was technically and financially supported by the Government of Australia through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and UNFPA.

Source: United Nations Population Fund

At least 6 out of 10 women in Vietnam experienced violence at least once in their life time. More than 3 out of 10 experienced violence in the last 12 months

Figure 1 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

More than 1 out of 4 women in Vietnam agreed with this statement: “A good wife obeys her husband even if she disagrees”

Figure 2 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

More than half of the women in Vietnam think that there are good reasons for their husbands/partners to hit them

Figure 3 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

Half of the women who experienced violence didn’t tell anyone about it

Figure 4 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

More than 30% of working women experienced violence in their lifetime, a disturbing figure that signals even employment and some economic independence cannot save women

Figure 5 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

Compared to 2010, drunkenness became a more common trigger of physical violence against women in Vietnam

Figure 6 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

As a Vietnamese guy, I am really ashamed and embarrassed when I read this report. We still have so much to go as a nation. I don’t really care what the percentages are for other countries. This is not a competition. We have to be better than this. At least, I would love to see a few things:

  • There needs to be education to women on their rights. They don’t have to think that there are good reasons to be hit or that they have to obey to be called “a good wife”
  • We also must educate the men that it’s uncivil, reprehensible and awful to exert violence on women
  • As a society, we need to have a shaming culture on violence against women and call out terrible cases
  • There must be more organizations or groups that can protect women’s rights

Vietnam’s success and continued effort in handling Covid-19

Vietnam has gone for more than 2 months without any community transmission. The only new cases we have seen are from repatriation flights which carried Vietnamese nationals back home overseas. As of this writing, we haven’t had a single death from Covid-19. The record looks to be intact after the most serious case of all, patient #91, has recovered miraculously after being close to death a few times. Exemplars Health had an article that covers it pretty well why Vietnam has been successful so far in dealing with the pandemic.

Certain aspects of Vietnam’s response to COVID-19 may not be replicable in other countries. Its experience with past epidemics encouraged citizens to take significant steps to slow the spread of the virus. Because Vietnam features a one- party government with a chain of command reaching from the national level down to the village level, it is particularly suited to mobilizing resources, implementing public health strategies, and ensuring consistent messages while enforcing regulations stringently.

– Investment in a public health infrastructure (e.g., emergency operations centers and surveillance systems) enables countries to have a head start in managing public health crises effectively. Vietnam learned lessons from SARS and avian influenza, and other countries can learn those same lessons from COVID-19.

– Early action, ranging from border closures to testing to lockdowns, can curb community spread before it gets out of control.

– Thorough contact tracing can help facilitate a targeted containment strategy.

– Quarantines based on possible exposure, rather than symptoms only, can reduce asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission.

– Clear communication is crucial. A clear, consistent, and serious narrative is important throughout the crisis.

– A strong whole-of-society approach engages multi-sectoral stakeholders in decision-making process and activate cohesive participation of appropriate measures

One of the things that I think we did very well is contact tracing. The authority in Vietnam demands that every patient provide detailed information on where and when they had been in the few days prior and whom they had been in contact with. From there, the authority will reach out to those F1 and F2 cases and take appropriate actions. Below is the general idea how it works

Life is almost back to normal in Vietnam, to some extent. Domestic flights have resumed, people have gone back to office and establishments have been reopened. However, the borders still remain closed to international flights, despite no new community transmission over two months. According to a new report, it is almost impossible to expect any commercial international flights before August. The earliest estimate is September, yet the situation remains fluid. There will be flights between Japan and Vietnam in the next coming days, but those flights are restricted to only businesspeople and come with enhanced security measures. Some may regard this policy as “draconian” or “extreme”, but if you look at countries and cities that have reopened, the results are mixed. Some saw only a few new cases while others like Arizona or Florida have seen new daily record number of cases also every week for the past two weeks. Folks have different preferences and agendas. Some prioritize the economy’s health while others put safety on top of the list. Personally, I am just glad I don’t have to make such decisions. But I will say this: seeing foreigners stuck in Vietnam express their gratitude to Vietnam for saving their lives during the pandemic is heart-warming and makes me proud. To me, that’s more important than some economic salvation.

I’m immensely grateful to the government of Vietnam for the privilege of being here, and for their smart and fast action — in such contrast to my own government. People here say to me, “Oh you’re American? I’m so sorry.” 

Source: Business Insider

Before closing this entry, I want to speak a bit about how some media outlets cover countries that have been successful in handling this pandemic. Time.com ran a piece labeled “The Best Global Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic“. To my and others’ surprise, the article doesn’t mention a whiff about Vietnam, Uruguay or Mongolia.

  • Mongolia: 215 confirmed cases, 158 recovered and 0 deaths
  • Vietnam: 349 confirmed cases, 328 recovered and 0 deaths
  • Uruguay: 885 confirmed cases, 815 recovered and 25 deaths (though there seems to be a spike recently)

I get that these countries’ brand names may not be as well-known as those such as European Union or New Zealand. I believe there is a sentiment among folks in developed countries that if the situation is bad where they live, it must be a catastrophe in developing countries. It’s annoying to see this kind of reporting. Articles like the one by Time.com only add to the aforementioned sentiment that don’t give developing countries enough credit. Individuals have our own strengths and weaknesses, and so do countries. Vietnam may not have a shiny record on a lot of things, but we can be very capable in other areas. Our success in handling Covid-19 and SARS before that is an example.

Vietnam’s success in fighting against Covid, so far

From Agence Francaisse de Developpement, translation by Google

Vietnam, with its 96 million inhabitants and despite its proximity to China, is today an example of good management of the Covid-19 crisis: the country has only 268 cases, 214 cures and no deaths in the April 21, 2020

Despite sharing a 1,000 kilometer border with China, Vietnam is one of the countries least affected by Covid-19 in Southeast Asia. A performance that is talked about and which has been set as an example in several countries.

However, the ratio of the number of hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants is lower than in European countries : 3.2 in 2018, compared to 6 in France for example. The key to success is therefore not found here in the health infrastructures themselves, but in the anticipation shown by the government, based on the lessons learned from the SARS crisis in 2003, and in the preventive measures implemented. artwork

When a person is tested positive (called F0), a list is made of all the people he has met. The latter (called F1), are sent immediately in fortnight to closed centers – barracks, hotels and collective buildings requisitioned for this purpose – or to their own accommodation if possible. They are systematically tested and must in turn notify the people with whom they have been in contact. The latter (F2) must respect social distancing and if possible confine themselves to their home 14 days. If one of the F1s is tested positive, it becomes F0, and the process is repeated : the F2s become F1 and the search for new F2s is launched, etc. 

The advantage of this system : even people who are potentially asymptomatic or have negative tests (the test failure rate is around 30 %) are confined when they have been in contact with a proven case. This system has need to date that the use of about 120 000 tests, targeted to those at risk of returning pandemic zones or neighborhoods was identified early community transmission. It made it possible to contain the epidemic without congesting hospitals and without having to carry out major screening campaigns. 

Source: AfD

Not only did the country take early measures to prevent a widespread, but it also implemented policies to support businesses and citizens such as deferred tax payment, free treatments and tests, etc…

Even though I don’t think we can dispute the role of luck in having zero deaths so far, the low number of cases, especially when we are China’s neighbor, is excellent. But the war against the virus is not over yet. The lockdown that kept citizens at home was lifted yesterday. Businesses are itching to resume operations. I do hope that we will continue to be vigilant and careful and that no spread will take place.

In addition to the uncharacteristically successful campaign to keep Covid-19 contained, my home country has also increased our international standing with support to Western allies.

From Asia Times

Vietnam has recently ramped up medical equipment production and made related donations to countries in Covid-19 need, including to the United States, Russia, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Vietnam has also donated face masks, hand sanitizers and other Covid-19 containing supplies to medical services in neighboring Cambodian and Laos, countries with which Vietnam shares special relations and where China has recently made inroads and gains

Source: Asia Times

Vietnam needs international coalition more than ever. We have had recently a couple of concerning incidents involving China. Our powerful neighbor stopped the water in upper Mekong, causing a tremendous drought in the Mekong Delta. Also, China sunk our fishing boats and built infrastructure in contested seas between the two countries. We are small and poor compared to China. To fight against the injustice and bullying behavior, we need the support from allies and the actions lately are a great first step towards such support.

That being said, we cannot rely entirely on others for our fate. We need to take matters into our own hands. We have been independent for almost 50 years. It took South Korea and Singapore roughly the same time to grow from poor countries to two of the most developed in the world. There is no excuse for us. In addition to having international support, we need to build our own core strengths and competitiveness.

Vietnam’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic so far

After confirming 16 Covid-19 cases in Feb, Vietnam quickly took actions to quarantine the whole village where the 16 patients resided. The quick action stopped the spread and even earned a global recognition after the comedian John Oliver praised my country’s effort and an incredibly catchy song used to increase hygiene awareness.

Just as the country was one week away from declaring safe from virus, the 17th case appeared. A young woman returned home from a trip to Italy without informing the authority or going into self-isolation. The number of cases rose steadily, reaching 61 as of now and potentially going higher in the near future. It is worth noting that Vietnam has had no casualties so far and 16 recoveries. Overall, I have been quite pleased with how my country handled this pandemic.

As mentioned above, the authority successfully isolated the first 16 cases and stopped the spread. If there was a positive case, the government locked down the whole street or area to prevent spread. Furthermore, it was announced that citizens would receive tests and treatment of the Coronavirus for free.

The head of the Health Ministry’s Planning-Finance Department, Nguyen Nam Lien, confirmed that individuals will receive free treatment and testing for the viral disease, Saigon Times reports.

A Vietnam Social Security official, Le Van Phuc, explained that the entire medical bill will be covered by the national health insurance fund for patients suspected of having the novel virus, but tested negative. Those who test positive for the virus will have their tests and treatment covered by the state budget.

Those who are put into mandatory quarantine will also not be charged any fees for their medical care and stay. Within isolation wards, those quarantined will receive drinking water, towels, and mouthwash for free, as well as medically prescribed cautionary items such as face masks and hand sanitizer.

Source: Saigoneer

Flights to and from China were already banned in Vietnam as of Feb 1, 2020, a swift action given that the outbreak was going to worsen in China. Three days ago, the country banned visitors from UK and Schengen Nations as the number of cases in Europe keeps increasing at an alarming rate.

There are also disinfection cabins set up in the capital – Hanoi. To be clear, whether this initiative is truly effective can be challenged, but it’s still a step into the right direction, given what is going on here in the US

Colors of Vietnam

I came across arguably the best promotional video about my country I have ever seen. The video was excellently filmed and edited to capture some of the best that my country can offer. Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks a lot to Pau Garcia for the great video.

Source: Pau Garcia

I truly wish Vietnam can produce more of these videos to advertise the country to our international friends

How Vietnam fares in terms of inbound travel, compared to its peers

In this post, I will do a quick comparison in terms of inbound travel between Vietnam and other Asian neighboring countries. Data is from United Nations World Tourism Organization. To simplify the calculations, I used a static exchange rate of 23,100 VND/USD.

I was a bit skeptical about my country’s appeal to international guests, but as it turned out, Vietnam does pull in more than 15 million international visitors in 2018, a quite respectable.

However, we slip backwards on the receipt scoreboard, behind countries that have fewer visitors.

As a consequence, among the 12 countries surveyed, we pull the third smallest receipt per arrival.

It’s quite disappointing to see the receipt figures. Vietnam has a lot to offer. We have an amazing cuisine that was revered by the late great Anthony Bourdain. We have beaches throughout the country and untouched mountainous areas, including some famous sites.

Trang An
Ha Long Bay
Ma Pi Leng Pass (Source: Indochinatravel)

We should develop our service offerings even more to increase the receipts. We already manage to pull in a lot of visitors. Now, it is a matter of making those visitors come back and/or spend more money while in Vietnam.

Travel to Trang An in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Trang An is where the movie Kong was shot. I had long been interested in seeing the place in person, but could only do so this year. Below is my experience in this largely untouched and breathtakingly beautiful place

I had limited time left in Vietnam. So I only did a day trip to Ninh Binh which could only allow me to visit Dance Cave and Trang An. If you want to visit Bai Dinh and Tam Coc, 2 days will be a better choice.

I took a limousine to Ninh Binh and a train back to Hanoi. The limousine ride was comfortable and the trip took 1.5 hours. If you intend to ride a limousine back to Hanoi, it’s highly recommended that you make a reservation in advance. My friend and I couldn’t find any available seats on our way back so we decided to go by train. A limousine seat for one person on way is around 130,000 VND.

The train takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes from the gas station in Ninh Binh to Hanoi, a bit longer than a limousine ride. The ticket is more or less at the same price. The train wasn’t the best in my opinion, but it did the job.

Dance Cave

The attraction is a cave called Dance. However, the main point is the 400-something-step climb to a small mountain that stands next the cave. It’s highly recommended that you go there early in the morning to avoid the heat, wear sports clothes for easy movement and bring water!

Trang An

Our next stop was Trang An. If you are not with a tour operator, you can go from the cave to Trang An by taxi. It cost us 80,000 VND. Do bargain to avoid being ripped off.

Trang An is a marvelous place. It looks surreal and untouched. Just like Halong Bay, Trang An is proof of how remarkable Mother Nature is with her creativity and patience to produce such a beautiful painting over thousands of years.

A boat ride lasts 3 hours and costs around 200,000 VND per person. There are three different routes to experience Trang An. Route #3 is the latest one. The construction for Kong movie was removed in September 2019. So don’t expect to see any of it.

I learned from the trip that local farmers were allowed by the government to carry passengers on boats once every two days in addition to their farming work. They are paid a meager amount of 200,000 VND for their ride, a ridiculous sum for 3 hours of physical work and some more idly waiting time. As a consequence, it’s expected that passengers tip the women around 50,000 VND per person.

The start of Route #3 in Trang An
Boat rides in Trang An
Magnificent Green
Space opening up
The entrance to a 1km-long cave
Not a friendly cave to tall people
A typical rural house in the past
Entrance to a pagoda in the middle of Trang An
Right at the exit of another cave, to the eagle-shaped moutain
Eagle!
Ninh Binh Train Station

My photos don’t do Ninh Binh enough justice, not even close. I urge that you visit the place soon as it is still in an excellent shape with little human impact. To feel the might of nature and the beauty that it brings. To feel humbled. To feel alive. I never got enough of that green color on top of the grey of the rocks.

Travel to Halong Bay

Two weeks ago I visited Halong Bay. Here are a few tips I learned from the trip and some photos for your reference

There are different types of tours to Halong Bay: within the day, two days and one night or three days and two nights. The cruises vary as well. You can have your pick from a litany of three-star, four-star and five-star ships that offer more or less the same activites but presumably different levels of services.

There are two ways to reach Halong Bay from Hanoi, the capital. The highway is significantly faster and takes roughly 2.5 hours, compared to 5 hours taken with the usual heavily-trafficked roads. You can choose to travel in style with limousines which offer limited yet comfortable and spacious seats or go with a normal coach that doesn’t cost much less, but offers far less comfort.

There are two harbors in Halong Bay where the ships usually leave to start a tour. The old harbor has far more traffic than its newer counterpart. So, it’s worth asking your tour operator about this point.

For reference, I booked a two-day-one-night tour on Athena cruise with Vietravel that included all meals (no drinks included), limousines from and to Hanoi, my own cabin, a visit to a cave, kayaking in the bay on a less busy route and cost approximately 6 million VND.

The first stop of the trip was to a pearl farm. At the farm, you can listen to the staff explaining about how pearls are formed and what they do on a daily basis. There are some live demonstrations of how a pearl is retrieved from an oyster and how a pearl “seed” is planted in an oyster. The following videos are for your reference

The next activity on the card is kayaking around a local community. You can have a local operate the boat for you, but if you are physically fit enough, I highly recommend that you kayak yourself. One thing I learned from this activity was that kids in this community attend a floating school till they are 18, old enough to attend a university in Vietnam. They then come back to the mainland for college.

Halong Bay is magnificent. It’s humbling to be in the middle of this remarkable creation of Mother Nature. It’s highly recommended to watch the Bay during sunrise and sunset

Halong Bay during sunset
Halong Bay during sunrise
Sunrise in Halong Bay

The last activity on my trip is to a 200,000 year old cave. It’s mind-blowing how beautiful a cave created out of erosion can be. It is just impossible not to be impressed by Mother Nature and her imagination

a 200,000 year old cave in Halong Bay
a 200,000 year old cave in Halong Bay
a 200,000 year old cave in Halong Bay
a 200,000 year old cave in Halong Bay

All in all, the tour to Halong Bay is worth the time and money. I was struck from the very first moment by its wonderful beauty. Kudos to the local government for keeping this attraction in pretty good shape. I didn’t see trash during my trip. If you visit Vietnam and have two days to spare, do consider Halong Bay.

One more thing before I end this entry: do get yourself a good mobile data package. There is no Wifi. So your phone’s mobile connection will be the only way to keep in touch with the modern world: a.k.a your Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook and so on!

Vietnam – Raging Growth on Fragile Foundations

I am about to conclude a short vacation trip to my hometown in Vietnam. Coming back to Saigon, or more officially and formally known as Ho Chi Minh City, after two years away is an eye-opening. Areas that used to be abandoned are now inhabited. New businesses pop up in town, ranging from speakeasy bars, restaurants to a new airline. Incumbents are trying to reinvent themselves to stay competitive, as in the case of Grab. The city is littered with construction bonkers, even in the business area and main attraction site such as Ben Thanh Market. Changes seem to take place over night in arguably the New York of Vietnam, but they seem to be on fragile foundations

Infrastructure

If you are in Saigon, it won’t take you long to see the old and largely insufficient infrastructure that is being used by more than 10 million inhabitants. Streets most of which were built decades ago are now too small to accommodate the number of citizens that only increase over time. Big buses and a rise in car ownership worsen the situation. The streets across the city, especially in the downtown area, are almost undrivable between 7am and 8pm. It creates so much inefficiency when the time taken to travel a certain distance in this city is a lot more than what it should have been.

I was traveling to Hanoi, the capital, from Saigon last week. I arrived at the airport at 4am for a 5:30am flight, thinking that it would have been a breeze through the check-in and security. How wrong was I! The airport in Saigon has long been running way above its capacity. Funding for a new airport was just recently approved, yet the project has been in discussion for years. It won’t be another 5 years at least until Saigon can have a new terminal.

Public health

Ever since I touched down in Saigon, I have been warned about the hygiene of the food here. There is an accepted truth around here that unless you eat at fancy and pricey establishments, the food is likely drugged and doesn’t meet the hygiene standards, ranging from sugarcane juice, beef, pork or fruits. The number of cancer cases in Vietnam has been alarmingly increasing over the year. Is it just a coincidence or is there some correlation or connection between the lack of hygiene in the food and the explosion of cancer cases?

Another challenge that the city has to face is air pollution. There is virtually no regulation on the exhaust from scooters or vehicles in Vietnam. As the city is packed with folks, scooters and cars, the air is increasingly contaminated. Here is what it looks like around 8am from an airplane. I am pretty confident that it wasn’t fog

Skill labor

I’ll let the following excerpt speak about the quality of skill labor and education in Vietnam

Vietnam is 11th out of 12 Asian countries in a World Bank ranking of quality of human resources with 3.79 points out of 10.

South Korea tops with 6.91 points followed by India with 5.76 and Malaysia with 5.59, Chung Ngoc Que Chi of the Ho Chi Minh City Technical and Economic College listed these numbers in a presentation at a forum on enhancing Vietnamese workers’ skills held in Hanoi on Friday and Saturday.

She also cited a survey by the World Bank and the Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM) of 350 businesses in production and services in Hanoi, HCMC and neighboring provinces, which showed that 66 percent of businesses employed foreign laborers and 36 percent of domestic businesses were dissatisfied with the quality of education and training of Vietnamese human resources.

Chi said Vietnam suffers in terms of both quality and quantity, with shortcomings in foreign language and IT skills and ability to use technologies. She blamed it on the large gap between the country’s vocational education and the market’s requirements, and called for forging close ties between schools and businesses for training.

Source: VnExpress

In my opinion, public infrastructure, public health and education are some of the core foundations of a country. So far, what I have seen on this trip hasn’t given me cause for optimism on these counts. We have a lot to do as a nation.

Some random observations in Vietnam

I am in the middle of a visit to Vietnam. Here are a few casual and randome observations I have had so far

Service fees

In addition to VAT, there is a new, at least to me, item on each bill: service fees. Based on my experience, it’s about 5% of the original bill. I hadn’t seen anything similar before.

Grab drivers in Hanoi don’t shift gears

A lot of Vietnamese people use manual scooters to commute. To be an effective and efficient driver, you need to shift gears so that you have more power after a stop and more speed when you are already moving stably. Effective gear shifting makes a ride more pleasant and protects the engine better. However, I noticed from a few Grab rides in Hanoi that drivers don’t shift gears. A few shifted gears, but it’s nowhere near enough to be effective

Grab drivers double charge customers the airport fees

At Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), there is a toll that automobile drivers need to pay only once when they are getting out of the airport. On my way home from the airport, I was asked by the driver to cover that fee, which amounts to 10,000 VND (roughly $0.4). I was fine with that because I saw him pay the toll. However, when I was in a car entering the airport, the driver never had to pay anything. Yet, he still charged me the same amount. I am sure that he would ask the next passenger to pay as well.

Traffic jam at the airport

Knowing the ridiculous amount of traffic overflow that Tan Son Nhat has to handle, I booked the second earliest flight to Hanoi and got to the airport around 4am, thinking that the check-in would be short and quick. Boy, was I wrong! It was super crowded. It took me 75 minutes in total to complete check-in and security checks! At 4AM! Imagine the normal or peak hours!

Difficulty in exchanging currencies

Before I left the US for Vietnam, I withdrew some cash to cover my expenses. The ATM gave me only $20 bills; which I had no problem with since I didn’t think there would be any issues. On the first day in Vietnam, I tried to convert it into the local currency and it was not the smoothest thing in the world.

Firstly, you are charged a lower exchange rate with $20 bills than with $100 bills. Secondly, if your bills have small tears, some ink – no matter how small, or the print blurried a bit by time and excessive contact with human hands, the bills won’t be accepted by banks in Vietnam. You either have to go to local jewelry stores to do the exchanging or keep your dollars.

Grab – On its way to become a Super app

Gab entered Vietnam as a competitor of Uber. It proceeded to buy out Uber. Now, every person I know uses Grab for commute. I am sure other ride-hailing apps have customers, but Grab is by far the dominant player. Plus, you can do a lot of things with your Grab account including ordering food, paying bills, booking hotels and paying subscriptions