Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. In this instalment, KEREN GOLDMAN chats with us about life in Nam Wai, her gardening business, and juggling work and family when a serious health issue intervenes.
Where are you from originally? What do you miss about it?
I was born and raised in a loving family environment in the countryside of Israel, along with my twin sister and older sister. Growing up close to nature, surrounded by animals that our Dad and we rescued, is a treasured memory. It was a wonderful way to grow up and learn what is important, thanks to my amazing Dad.
I also miss family and the family meals we enjoyed together in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean style. The hummus and the salads made of the freshest Israeli produce are as yet unmatched to what I’ve tasted since.
Tell us about your expat “trail”. When did you first come here? Where else have you lived?
After serving my two years of National Service in Israel, which I relished, I saved funds to realise my dream of backpacking around Asia. This included first arriving in Hong Kong, then travelling overland to India, via China, Tibet, Mongolia and Nepal.
Hong Kong was a base to return to, with the intention of further travel. However, I ended up spending more time in Hong Kong, and it quickly became my home. Discovering the delights of Lamma, I ended up being in residence for 23 years there!
So Hong Kong is “home” for you?
In one word, yes. Feeling invested, loving the culture and diversity, and now having spent the larger portion of my life living here, with things and places still to discover, it most definitely is home. My only permanent home, actually, as an adult. I love it.
What do you do here? Tell us about your business.
Five years ago, I started my own business named Keren’s Garden, comprising the supply of quality indoor and outdoor plants, fruit trees and ceramic pots. This is a labour of love, and extremely close to my heart, so each day is a pleasure – especially having started the business from just an idea to gaining a reputation and now receiving awards for the services it provides.
We don’t just sell beautiful plants, but we also tailor individual recommendations for each and every client’s home conditions, available light and intended plant locations. On-going support and advice on how to care for the plants is complimentary, including instructions for watering and the care required for each plant.
Give us an insight into a typical working day for you.
The day starts with checking correspondence, done across six different media, with social media being a big part. Following this, I check carefully on the coming deliveries to ensure timely service, and then concentrate on plant sourcing. Then our dogs are usually past ready for the short walk to the local beach to take a swim.
The remainder of the day is taken up with coordination of the team for plant selection, potting and delivery; that leaves me clear to then communicate with existing and potential clients, usually well into the night-time.
You’ve been facing the challenge of an ongoing health issue; could you tell us a bit about it?
In July 2018, I was diagnosed with a very large cancer tumour, coming as an utter shock, for a 44 year old, extremely independent woman who was fully convinced of her own invulnerability. Surgery was performed by an excellent team at Queen Mary Hospital in September 2018. It ended up being a lot more complicated than envisaged, involving the removal of a large section of intestines and partial removal of stomach.
After the major surgery, recovery was challenging; but, with the help of my friends, I was able to start walking in three months. The full process is a testament to the quality of the public health care system here in Hong Kong.
Since then, I’ve been working on building up my stamina and general health; however, without any indication or warning, at the end of October 2020, I suffered similar symptoms, although this time with a substantial amount of pain. Investigations revealed that the cancer had come back. I was in hospital for two weeks to combat the infection and fever; now I’m at home, awaiting news from the surgical teams at Queen Mary regarding the options available to us for their intervention to remove the (now two) tumours.
How has it been trying to juggle work and looking after your health?
Because we rely on personal interaction with every client, I feel compelled to continue “as normal”, despite it being difficult; and, of course, the work helps to focus my mind on the business that I’m so very passionate about. However, to be completely honest, it sometimes hasn’t been easy.
What would you say to others who might be facing similar challenges?
My initial response to this question is not only to those in a similar circumstance, but instead to recommend to everyone, from the bottom of my heart, to live in the moment. Treasure all that life offers, large and small, whilst balancing this with a plan for the future. Especially in Hong Kong, where there is the pressure to always perform and do more, ensure that you can take time for yourself and your loved ones.
What neighbourhood do you live in, and why did you choose it?
Chris and I moved to Nam Wai in August 2019, and we adore life here. We love being surrounded by nature – both jungle and sea – the quiet, and still being close enough to Sai Kung town for the necessities.
What are three things you like about your neighbourhood?
- The amazing neighbours and sense of belonging to a community.
- The proximity to the beach and the lack of heavy traffic, both of which are conducive to our lifestyle, and that of our treasured rescue dogs, Sam and Hercules.
- We cherish having the space to enjoy our hobbies and, at the weekend, either host friends or just chill and relax.
Describe your home to us.
We live in a village house, three minutes’ walk to the beach and overlooking the bay. To Chris’s dismay, our home is full of plants of all types, sizes and textures. We have decorated in a modern style, with natural products and finishes.
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
Music is a mutual love and usually always present in the home, but personally I enjoy sculpture, painting and swimming with the dogs. Cooking as a group with friends from the neighbourhood for the homeless is also very rewarding on a weekly basis.
Quick questions about Hong Kong: what is your favourite …
Casual restaurant? 2084 (formerly Casa) in Sai Kung town square is a firm favourite as a vegan.
Date night restaurant? Padstow at Pak Sha Wan.
Bar? We’re both not regular drinkers, but if we do have a drink, we love sundowners on our rooftop.
Local food? Vegan dumplings rule!
Thing to do with visitors? A food tour is our “go to” favourite.
Thing to do with kids? Kadoorie Farm; we, and they, love it.
Nearby holiday destination? Our most recent trip prior to COVID-19 was to a small heritage town in Vietnam, which, once travel is safe again, we plan to revisit.
A final word from Keren
If anyone has any questions about dealing with severe cancer in Hong Kong, I’m always available to share some knowledge and an ear. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more in our Living in Hong Kong section