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Putting Down Roots in Shanghai
Having lived here for 18 years, first as Polish consul and now as a businessman, Frydrych says the Shanghainese have always been very welcoming to foreigners.

"It's a great decision for the municipal government to employ foreigners to work for the government. Foreigners can become Chinese governmental cadres", he says.

After selling even the office furnishings from his former company, Marek Frydrych invested all his capital in the purchase of a steel factory with 400 workers in 1997.

However, the Asian financial crisis hit the following year and suddenly no one was willing to buy any steel, pushing Frydrych's business into a low ebb at a critical moment.

With experience and knowledge of China built up over many years, he led his factory out of the deep end step-by-step.

"That was the most difficult time of my life in Shanghai," the Pole said.

By August this year, Frydrych has stayed in Shanghai for 18 years, almost the same amount of time he lived in his own country.

Living away from his country for a long time, he was still patriotic and a loyal fan of the Polish soccer team, whose failure in the recent World Cup made him sad.

China expert

Working on the top floor in an old building near the Bund, Frydrych, who owns the Troy Int'l Trading (Shanghai) Co Ltd, has realized his long-time dream of working in a building on the Bund, deviating a little from his original intention to come to the country to study its history.

"When I first became interested in Chinese history, I went to the former Soviet Union to study it at the age of 19 in 1978, because at that time China didn't welcome foreign students," said Frydrych in Chinese.

Employed by the Polish Government, he finally came to Shanghai five years later to work in the Polish Consulate.

"The city was still sleeping in 1984 when I came," he said.

One professor who taught him Chinese history said Shanghai did not change from 1949 to the 1990s, except for some small changes in road names and architecture. He found the locals at the age of 40 or 50 even spoke worse Mandarin Chinese than himself.

The longer he stayed in the country, the more he understood the culture.

He couldn't understand why people in a nation that had experienced so many autocratic feudal dynasties were sometimes so disrespectful of the law. He was shocked that people would walk across the road with red lights so freely, while in Europe people would not do that even at 2 o'clock in the morning when there were not any policemen or cars. However, now he has adopted the same habit, he joked.

Meanwhile, Chinese have a co-operative and closed society, and Frydrych feels it's hard to get close to locals.

"They were not willing to get too close to foreigners and only want contact with other Chinese," he said. But he considers Shanghainese the best in the country at accepting foreigners due to the city's 100-plus-year colonial history.

When asked about what's the biggest change the city has experienced over the past years, Frydrych pointed to his head: "It's in the mind."

"It's a great decision for the municipal government to employ foreigners to work for the government. Foreigners can become Chinese governmental cadres!" he said.

Foreign trader

After the 1990s, he left the consulate and invested $10,000 to start his own company, acting as an agent for Chinese companies to export shoes, clothes, bicycles and many other materials.

"Most of the time, quality and attitude of our Chinese clients were the major problems troubling us," he said.

The Chinese often neglected credit no matter whether they had the ability to complete the order as required within the limited period. "They would always say - yes, we can and sign the contract with us. Then, when the delivery date arrived they would say - sorry we couldn't complete it on time."

Things have changed a lot in the past years, not only Chinese attitudes but also the exports of high-tech products.

Frydrych likes the new generation of China - energetic, well-educated and open-minded. He admitted that he never employs middle-aged people, claiming to have experience.

"That experience was obtained in old State-owned enterprises and is not useful," he said.

Teamwork is the most important thing Frydrych requires of his young staff. "Nowadays Shanghai is not a developing city any longer but a developed cosmopolitan with advanced standards of living and talents," he said.

Better community

Frydrych feels Shanghai has become a money-oriented society with its rapidly developing economy, which is not a good thing. "People count everything based on money."

Compared to Beijing, he thinks Shanghai is lagging behind in culture with karaoke becoming the unique cultural thing.

Intending to do something in this aspect, Frydrych suggested that some parks and roads host musical performances on Sundays for the locals. "However, most of them asked for money. In Western countries, people were told to make contributions to the community," he complained.

Nevertheless, Frydrych still plans to sponsor a carnival during the coming Shanghai Tourism Festival in September.

"Since, I live in the city and love the city, I hoped it can become better," he said.

In order to have a place to dance with his wife, Frydrych opened the Tropicana Restaurant and Club on the floor above his office and he designed one more restaurant inside the Pacific Hotel on Nanjing Lu.

(Shanghai Star June 20, 2002)

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