Old and New China Meet Along the Yellow River

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Duan says that the insurance costs him the equivalent of €6 a year. In return, he gets 40 to 70 percent of his medical bills paid, whether he is treated as an outpatient or in a hospital. "I've already had the photo taken for the certificate," he proudly says.

The River's End One hundred kilometers farther east, the Yellow River finally flows into the Bohai Sea, where a giant oil field was discovered about 50 years ago. The field is called "Victory," and today it is dotted with the burning flares of refineries and oil pumps swinging up and down like pendulums.

The government has established a nature reserve at the mouth of the Yellow River. There is also a futuristic-looking tourist center and pleasure boats offering tours into the bay, to the site where the brown water of the river meets the blue waters of the ocean. The skipper has to pay close attention to the depth sounder because, after running its course of more than 5,000 kilometers, the river is now less than half a meter deep.

The boat, the Dragon's Gate 688, has now gotten stuck in the mud with day-trippers on board. Another boat cautiously approaches the vessel to stir up the silt so that the boat will have enough water under its keel again. The maneuver succeeds after about an hour, and both ships chug off into the blood-red evening sun.

A little farther upstream, in the provincial capital Jinan, residents are flying kites between government buildings in the evening sky. Small light bulbs attached to the kites make them twinkle like stars.

Kites have been flown here for centuries. But today's China is no longer content with such traditional amusements.

In one corner of the square, loud music is screeching from a boom box. A group of dancers put on shoes with metal attachments. Then the residents of this city by the Yellow River tap-dance to the strains of Irish folk music. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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