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Massena native, author writes about his experiences in China

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MASSENA - Massena native John Rydzewski, who spent three and a half years working and living in northeastern China and currently resides in Portland, Ore., believes Americans have many misconceptions about China, particularly about its government and its respect for humanity.

Mr. Rydzewski, a 1987 graduate of Massena Central High School and a 1993 graduate of Clarkson University, feels that many Americans view China as an authoritarian communist regime that oppresses its roughly 1.35 billion citizens. However, Mr. Rydzewski describes China as a laid-back society, with little citizen involvement in government affairs and vice versa. “Its 1.3 billion people doing what 1.3 billion people want to do,” he said.

Mr. Rydzewski, an avid traveler, moved to China in 2007 for his work with a Fortune 500 company in an order to better understand the world and to gain a multi-cultural experience, and he was not detered by friends and family who questioned his “mental condition” for deciding to move literally across the planet to reside in a country so different from his own.

“To learn more about the place you grew up in, you have to go away,” Mr. Rydzewski said.

After almost four years in China, Mr. Rydzewski met his fiancÚ, whom he brought back to America, and found enough inspiration to write a book on his experiences, “China Diaries & Other Tales From the Road,” which was published through Inkwater Press and is available on Amazon.com. The cover of his first book was designed by Shane White, a graphic artist who also grew up in Massena and currently resides in Seattle.

Mr. Rydzewski shared his overseas experiences with Massena residents at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Massena Public Library.

Mr. Rydzewski lived in Shanghai throughout most of 2007 and then moved to Dalian, a port city of about six million located on a peninsula off the Yellow Sea, located roughly halfway between Beijing to the west and the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to the east.

A significant issue guiding nearly all aspects of Chinese urban life, Mr. Rydzewski said, is the massive population in many of China’s urban centers. With approximately 18 million people in Shaghai, and numerous other cities with populations higher than New York City, Mr. Rydzewski said to many Chinese the throngs of people in all places become like “white noise.”

This, along with political instability in China’s past, has led the Chinese to develop a very family-oriented culture, where they rely on their families rather than government services for support in times of need. In China, as in much of the world, there are no safety nets to provide someone with food, housing or health care if they cannot afford it.

In many ways, China is an ultra-libertarian state, with extreme fiscal responsibility ) and somewhat lax social laws, according to Mr. Ryzdewski. In China, Mr. Rydzewski says, nothing goes to waste - not food, land or living space. Some residents even planted corn on public land along the highway for their own personal use, and no public officials raised any concerns with that.

However, the massive population, the personal freedom of people “doing what they want to” do and the ultra-libertarian nature of the government and society has led to some problems that many Americans might find bizarre and frightening.

He touched on a case in which a Chinese entrepreneur used hazardous chemicals to dilute infant formula, poisoning many children, and resulting in the execution of the company’s CEO.

“When no one has confidence in the food supply, you begin to question the social stability of the nation. The government often has a heavy handed reaction. There are special challenges facing the Chinese government,” Mr. Rydzewski said.

He did point out that the Chinese government is not democractic and pointed out the government sometimes violently cracks down on protests and rioting, such as the infamous 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square.

While neither defending or condemning the often harsh actions by the Chinese government to retain social order and political control, Mr. Rydzewski pointed out that China’s population, more than four times that of the U.S., has created unique challenges for the country’s leaders. He said China could not functionally manage its massive citizenry in the same way as the U.S. government.

China also suffers from significant air pollution and terrifying traffic issues; he describes driving along Chinese highways as a kind of reckless free-for-all and in his book he wrote that both he and all of his western colleagues had witnessed either a fatal traffic accident or a dead body from a traffic accident.

Mr. Rydzewski also touched on area where Americans and north country residents, can learn from the Chinese. He describes China’s youth as very well educated, highly motivated individuals who from a young age are pressured by their parents to succeed and bring honor to the family name.

“There’s a lot of pressure on Chinese students. You’re one in a million (in China),” Mr. Rydzewski said. “They want to overcome us.”

He also said the Chinese are a highly advanced and highly web-connected country, and unlike America, they aren’t burdened with out-dated technology that clutters homes and may be slowing our transition to newer technology. In China, there aren’t even landlines for telephones, and Mr. Rydzewski found he had far better cell-service and Wi-fi connectivity there than in America.

As to what exactly Massena can learn from China, Mr. Rydzewski urged officials to promote education, technology and to consolidate its entities, agreeing with Supervisor Joseph D. Gray that Massena and Ogdensburg should combine their airports into one larger, stronger regional airport to serve St. Lawrence County.

In a more critical observation of local government, Mr. Rydzewski suggested town and village officials devote less time and resources into determing who has the responsibility to pay fund the water line repairs near Highland Road and devote more time toward identifying ways that Massena can capitalize its advantages, which include low cost of living, the St. Lawrence Seaway, close proximity to major Canadian cities and an influx of well-educated college students and low-cost hydropower from the New York Power Authority.

“They shouldn’t be fighting over water mains. They need to focus on (reducing) crime, derelict housing, (promoting) education. You have a lot of stuff here that a lot of people need,” Mr. Rydzewski said.

Mr. Rydzewski expressed hope that more business will move to Massena, so the community can bring in new people and retain its brightest, college-educated young people, who often must move in order to work their desired job. He sees this as critical to reverse Massena’s “death-spiral.”

Although Mr. Rydzewski is an avid world traveler, and currently an Oregonian, he says he’s always kept abreast on happenings in hometown and feels his north country roots have influenced him throughout his life, giving him the humility to explore the rural Chinese countryside and rub elbows with blue collar workers he encounters on his job-sights.

“There’s something special about people who grew up here and went away,” Mr. Rydzewski said.





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