Episode 8: Tibor Baranski Jr., International Lawyer, living in China and Japan

TIbor Baranski Jr.

BIO of TIBOR BARANSKI

Tibor Baranski Jr. is Canadian, American, and Hungarian citizen, a permanent resident of Japan, and counsel at JunHe Law Offices in Beijing, China. He splits his time between Tokyo and Beijing specializing in Sino-Japanese business relations and has 30+ years experience in this role.

Tibor comes from a family that moved to Canada as refugees during the Hungarian revolution, and later to Buffalo, NY. He began his education at Calasanctius Preparatory which sprung his entry into the Chinese language back in 1969. Tibor spent the 70’s and 80’s growing his educational background, with an A.B. from Princeton, and MA from Colombia, a JD from SUNY Buffalo, and LLM in Law from Peking University in Beijing, and a few more certificates at other schools as well.

A bit older than most of our previous guests on the show, Tibor offers a different insight as to what it is like being an expat in today’s day and age. From meeting new people, to working as a professional, Tibor has nearly 40 years of expat experience in his life.

SOME OF THE TOPICS COVERED

  • Being a non-linear operator in the trenches
  • Tibor’s work with the Chinese and Japanese legal system
  • Challenges of working as a foreign lawyer
  • How Tibor ended up being born as a Canadian
  • His father’s role in saving the lives of thousands of Jews in World War II
  • Similarities of the expats in his younger years to today’s expats

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CONTACT

https://www.linkedin.com/in/tiborb/

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TRANSCRIPT

You can read the transcript below or download here.

Zach Ireland:

Hello, everyone and welcome to the Expat Chitchat Show, I’m your host Zach Ireland. Today, I’m filling in for Elvis Presley. Mr. Presley, unfortunately, couldn’t be here today as he got into an unfortunate Polyjuice potion mix up turning him into nothing but a hound dog. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Presley during these trying times. Alright, joining us in the studio today is international lawyer and self-described non-linear realist, operator in the trenches, Tibor. Thanks for joining us, Tibor.

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

Hi there, Zach and a pleasure to be with you.

Zach Ireland:

No, seriously, thank you so much. We definitely have a lot to learn from you today. So, Tibor, could you do me a favor really quick and describe the studio that we’re in today?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

The studio, I believe, we’re online if I realize that. We’re in a virtual world of digital zeroes and ones.

Zach Ireland:

Flying past us. It’s just like a Wachowski brothers film in here. Let’s start off with an actual simple question. Where have you lived starting from the very beginning to now?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

I’ve lived in Toronto, Canada; Buffalo, New York; Princeton, New Jersey; New York City, Taipei, Taiwan; Kanazawa, Japan; Tokyo, Japan; Beijing, Hanover; Germany.

Zach Ireland:

And you’re currently stationed in?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

I’m currently based primarily in Beijing and then in Tokyo and the Yokohama area.

Zach Ireland:
So since you mentioned your work, you told me earlier, you described yourself as a realist and non-linear operator within the trenches. Can you talk to me a bit about that?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

The straightest distance between two points is a straight line but then, the point might change and so you’re still on a straight line but with a different point and in the trenches means that you deal with the reality on the ground as it is, not as it is filtered by someone else and the reality and the ground often times is not pleasant.

Zach Ireland:
what exactly is your job title?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:
my job title is counsel at JunHe Law Offices, Beijing headquarters.

Zach Ireland:

What exactly does that entail as far as your daily work as your daily tasks, your responsibilities?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

What that means is I’m a lawyer and I’ve been a lawyer for going on about 34 years now and recent years doing mostly work in anti-trust litigation and intellectual property but in the early years in Tokyo when we had the bubble in Japan, I was doing a lot of finance-based work. I did the first derivatives that appeared in the Tokyo Market in the late 80’s. If you recall, there were originally only 2 kinds of derivatives in terms of swap transactions, one is called the interest rates swap and the other one is called a currency rate swap so I did tax structures on those kinds of stuff. I developed the China Legal Practice in Japan in the mid to late 80’s in the Japanese Bar Association in Tokyo and throughout Japan. My name tends to be correlated with China Practice for Japanese companies going, investing into China or further China domestic issues but not limited to anti-trust and litigation. I mean, lawyers anywhere but, especially here, you’re not into legal theory, you’re not making policy, you’re trying to serve somebody. A client, typically a company in our case or some large or mid-sized entity and you want to be responsive to their needs.

Zach Ireland:

So, Tibor, being as you’re not originally from China and Japan, do you face any unique challenges in working so closely with the law of these two countries?
Tibor Baranski Jr.:

In terms of residence, I am a resident of Yokohama, Japan. I have a Japanese permanent residence status there. China is more difficult to deal with, they only give a once a year renewable work visa.

Zach Ireland:

Alright. So, Tibor, we’ve talked a bit about your professional life, do you mind if we get it personal?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

Sure, go ahead, fire away.

Zach Ireland:

For the listeners at home who may not be able to tell or maybe kind of guessing based on some of your answers that you’ve given previously, Tibor, you’re a little bit different than our previous guest because you’re over 40.

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

[laughs] That’s my answer. No, actually, I’ll be, I think of myself as a long-term graduate student so I’ll be turning 29 pretty soon.

Zach Ireland:

There you go. You have had an exceptional gap year, let me tell you.

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

The numbers don’t add up but lawyers were never good at the numbers anyway.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah, they’re not accountants.

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

We’re not accountants. Only when it comes to sending out our invoices.

Zach Ireland:
[laughs] Well, speaking of your gap year or your study abroad, your Erasmus trip, can we talk a little bit about how you got from where you were to where you are now and I know that’s going to be a pretty big answer, but I mean, what brought you from the United States over to Japan and China?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:
I started learning Chinese in 1969. I started learning Japanese in 1974 and spent several years as a student in Taipei during the 1970’s and also in Japan in the city called Kanazawa which is on the western coast of Japan and then finally, once I was through undergraduate, I did one of my master’s degrees at Greece, I did a law degree here at Peking University between ’82 and ’84. That’s the short answer.

Zach Ireland:

So, did you do your law degree in Mandarin?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

Yes.

Zach Ireland:
That’s impressive. That’s very impressive.

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

We have a saying among lawyers which the lawyers who do China work don’t like to raise a whole lot or Japan work, never hire an illiterate lawyer. If your lawyer cannot read and write Japanese or Chinese and has to work through translation, you’ve got the wrong person. You need a person who’s literate and understands the substance both and that’s very important.

Zach Ireland:

You started learning Chinese in, you said, 1964?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

’69. ‘69 in Buffalo, New York.

Zach Ireland:
In 1969. Now, I started learning Chinese in about 2011 or so, maybe 2010 and at that time, for a person from Nebraska, that was a very strange choice. Even today, I get a lot of people asking why did you pick Chinese? Now, for a person in 1969, that seems like an even stranger decision. What was the impetus for you to learn Chinese and then the impetus for you then to learn Japanese?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

The school I attended is called Calasanz Preparatory School and I won’t spell that for you but it was run by an order of priests called the Piarists and the Piarists are much like their well-known brethren, the Jesuits, except much smaller. They’re predominantly active in Spain and Hungary and after World War II, the Piarist priests from Hungary set up two schools in the United States. One outside of Philadelphia in a suburb called Devon and that school is still on going and then the other school in Buffalo, New York called Calasanz named after the founder of the Piarist order. This school, we did stuff early. I took advanced placement Biology when I was 12. We were reading Shakespeare when we were 12 or 13, that type of stuff. we had, I mean, the regular curriculum, I mean, we’re doing calculus when we were 14 and that kind of stuff

Zach Ireland:
So, you read all these Shakespeare when you were 12 and then by the time you’re 16, you just had to start reading it in Mandarin.

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

So, the Calasanz offered my native language is Hungarian, English is my second language, my third language is German which I used the least out of the 5 languages I worked with, non-native level but I understand everything. Calasanz offered a Western language for English-only speakers, it would’ve been their second language. The choices were German, French, Italian and Russian and as a second language, for me, it would’ve been the fourth language, they offered an Asian Language. All taught by native speakers, the choices were Japanese, Chinese, Hindi, Arabic and Hebrew so I picked Chinese.

Zach Ireland:

Well, speaking of language, you mentioned that Hungarian is your first language, can you talk about why that is? Are you from Hungary? Because you mentioned the first place you lived was Canada, correct?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

That’s right. Our family left Hungary, my parents left Hungary in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution and after about 9 or 10 months in a refugee camp in Rome, Italy, the Canadian immigration told us we’re still open, the American immigration told us we’re full. The year we’re talking about is 1957 so we ended up in Toronto, Canada where I was born.

Zach Ireland:

Well, that is quite different, I imagine.

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

Oh yeah, and then we were in Toronto for 4 years and moved to Buffalo, New York in 19…in the summer of 1962 where my younger sister was born so there’s three of us. I have an older brother and a younger sister.

Zach Ireland:

Do you guys ever pick on each other like you ever make fun of him for being born in Italy and he picks on you for being Canadian and your sister picks on you for being American?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

No, no, no, not at all. My older brother was born in Hungary. I’m born in Canada and my younger sister’s the only American-born among us so it’s a classic, first-generation, Hungarian revolution, cold war type of situation where the Russian communist come in and take over so you got to leave and you roll with the punches. It’s what we used to call what true refugees are like and we entered obviously, goes without saying if I may add and pause here that we entered both Canada and US legally. We stood in line.

Zach Ireland:

So, Tibor, you mentioned a bit about your family’s journey from Hungary to the United States and Canada. For the listeners at home, I actually have a bit of background knowledge about Tibor, but I’m going to let him tell you. Can you talk a little bit about your dad?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

Sure. His name is Tibor Baranski. My name is Tibor Baranski, Jr. So, same name if you google Tibor Baranski, his name comes up a hell of a lot more than mine does.

Zach Ireland:
And why is that?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

And he never use the computer and the reason for that is two-fold. I’ll just give you the bullet points here. Number one, he saved thousands of Jews at the end of the war in the fall of 1944 in Hungary on behalf of the Vatican. Number two, he was a freedom fighter during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.

Zach Ireland:
Tibor, can you explain a bit more about what exactly your father did on behalf of the Vatican to save so many Jewish lives?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

Yeah, the context, in a nutshell, is the following: the war is winding toward the end. It’s the fall of 1944. The image you can have in your mind or you should have in your mind is a retreating German Nazi army and an oncoming Russian communist Red Army. So, it’s essentially one devil replacing the other devil and as the Germans are retreating, they’re trying to haul off vast number of Jews and non-Jews, by the way, but the Jews, primarily, to the concentration camps and the death camps and my father, at that time, was preparing to become a Catholic priest. One of my father’s family is, our family’s close friends in Budapest had an infant son, Gabor, who was born in the Spring of 1944 and they were concerned that the infant would be hauled off under an onerous clauses which is a Jewish deportation in those very chaotic period and they asked my father’s stepmother if my father could get a baptismal pass, i.e. have the infant baptized and thus, protected and so my father did that. My father took the infant up to the papal embassy or also called the Nuncio—Nunciature on the Buda side of Budapest in late October 1944 and he met with the papal ambassador whose name is Angelo Rotta, requesting baptismal certificate and baptizing, baptismal certificate for the infant and the parents which immediately were taken care of and the papal ambassador, the Pope at the time was Pope Pius XII who sent instructions to all embassies throughout Nazi-occupied Europe to do whatever they could to protect Jews and Non-Jews too but, primarily Jews, first of all and so Angelo Rotta was the papal ambassador was quite old at the time. He was in his mid-70s by then and physically weak, was not equipped to deal with the Nazi who were tough SOBs and so the papal ambassador, Angelo Rotta, asked my father to do it. My father accepted and it got underway and I’m not going into the details, it lasted for a little over a month but the image you could have would be is that you’re basically going 22 hours a day out of 24, you sleep whenever you can. 4 to 5 weeks comes out feeling like 4 or 5 months in terms of intensity and your life being constantly at risk. There is nothing to hide here. This is something that is known to the world. We grew up with it. I mean, all three of us siblings and it’s something you want people to know especially your children and it gives a compass, a direction in terms of moral parameters that are sorely missing these days.

Zach Ireland:

In what ways did you think that this affected you growing up and shaped the man that you became now?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

It made me more of a realist. Far more of a realist—

Zach Ireland:

Why do you think that is?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

Well, because what happened in World War II, first of all, to the Jews during the Holocaust but also to non-Jews as well, is horrific on an epic scale and not to be fully cognizant of that is either vile stupidity or other, just hatred. It’s not excusable.

Zach Ireland:
Being the culture that you’re from, the culture that you’re living now is so incredibly different. What are some similarities that you see? I think it’s easy to talk about, “Oh, you know, it’s so strange. They do things this way. We do things that way,” what are some similarities that you see?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

Our humanity.

Zach Ireland:

Can you talk a bit about that?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

Well, I mean I grew up in a God-centric world and that’s pretty much missing these days from the equation which is really too bad because it gives a lot more depth of field and if you take a God-centric perspective, I’m referring to the Judeo-Christian God, then you come to the conclusion that 90%, at least, of our attributes are the same or very similar and the rest, what we call culture is the icing on the cake and I’m being very simplistic about it but it’s true. So, if you go to the humanity of people with some understanding of their social conditioning, where they’re coming from, then you’ll be actually quite amazed to discover the vast amount of overlap.

Zach Ireland:
I definitely see that. We all love our mothers, we all love our friends. The way that we express that is definitely different. In the West, when someone runs off in the bathroom, you say, “Oh, hey, but make sure to hurry back,” that’s one of saying like ‘I love you’ because it’s saying ‘I miss your presence. I care about you,’ and in China, we often say when we’re out in the cold, “Make sure to bundle up,” [00:18:21] or like [00:18:22] “Make sure to drink more water,” this is another way of saying ‘Care about your body. Take care of your body because I care about the soul that lives in it’. I think that’s beautiful, Tibor.

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

The universality of a God-centric universe makes it actually much easier to connect because you look for the similarities rather than pick on minute differences. Clearly, knowing the language is important because it facilitates the process much faster. Not knowing the language slows it down but in either case, eventually you’ll see the overlap, the commonality of our humanity and you’ll end up focusing on that more than picking on differences. It’s kind of like seeing the forest, rather than picking out one or two trees in the forest.

Zach Ireland:
I absolutely agree with that and I find the more one becomes acquainted with a language of a culture, the more you don’t notice the differences as much anymore. You begin to notice the similarities.

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

My reference is, Zach, rather to the similarities in our mindset, in spiritual structure rather than the sociological manifestations that people like to pick up on

Zach Ireland:
In your opinion, based on your experiences as an expat, what is, or what has been your favorite part of this experience?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:

The thing is that with the 25 or 30-year old mindset, what draws you, and with less experience and knowledge, will be very different than where I’m at. I’m almost 61 so it, I mean, what I like now is peace and quiet out at the house and when I worked at home today, and when I need to go into town like tomorrow and Wednesday, I go into town to take care of the meetings, whoever I need to meet formally or for lunch or dinner and then head back because I’m not into the [00:20:35] scene and I just like peace and quiet but I want to meet people. It’s not like I’m a recluse or something and there’s some weeks, there was a week, the week before last, I had dinners virtually every night and lunches and then, there are more quiet weeks so it’s the thing of being able to meet a broad array of people with very diverse backgrounds and diverse thinking and then being able to pull out of that shithole and go home and be in peace and quiet.

Zach Ireland:
Now, my question is do you find it easy to relate to other expats who might be 20, 30 or even 40 years your junior when you meet them for the first time?

Tibor Baranski Jr.:
Sure, I do because they have a tremendous sense of curiosity and want to know things. What I have is, they have the youth but I have the trajectory over a long period of time so I can help them, if they’re interested, to give a more in-depth context to the type of things they seem to be, the type of questions they ask.

Zach Ireland:
Well, that is a wonderful answer to end on and I just want to say thank you, Tibor, once again and now I’m going to proceed to my favorite part of the interview: what did I learn? Today, I learned a bit about what international lawyers do between Japan and China. Today, I also learned that where you’re born and your culture are two different things and most importantly, I learned that it doesn’t matter your age. All expats have the same thing in common. The thirst for being in a new place and meeting new people. Thanks for tuning in and I will see you next week.

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