Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. We spent 10 minutes with MONICA GOUNAROPOULOS to find out about her Greek background and to unmask her new gifting business.
Where are you from originally? What do you miss about it?
Well, ‘originally’ I’m from Greece – and in a lot of ways I am very Greek! I love to cook traditional Greek food, including the obligatory pulses every Monday; I love to feed people; and I pretty much believe that every word has originated from Greece!
But I moved to the UK when I was five, so a huge part of me feels British too, of course. I love London and miss it when I’m not there; I also feel like I’m ‘originally’ from the UK as it’s been my home for 33 years.
Tell us about your expat “trail”. When did you first come here? Where else have you lived?
I moved to Hong Kong last March with my husband, my then two-year-old daughter, and a six-month-old bump! It was an interesting time to relocate, to say the least! But we figured it was as good a time as any to experience living in a different country while the kids are young, so we tried to go with the flow…
I’ve always loved travelling and experiencing new cultures, but have never been brave enough to pack up and ship out to a different country before Hong Kong! It was definitely a leap for me as I’m inherently quite a homebody.
Is Hong Kong “home”?
For my kids who are so young, yes, this is ‘home’ … and I feel settled when they are settled, so in a roundabout way I guess it’s starting to feel like home! But there’s still a lot of Hong Kong I’m getting used to and discovering every day, so I often still feel like I’m on a journey.
What do you do here? Tell us about your business.
I’ve recently launched The Masked Gifter, a new gifting service that’s simple yet special. Offering a highly personalised service, I’m aiming to help people who are in gifting dilemmas. Whether they’re short on time or gift ideas, or they simply hate shopping (!), I provide them with a ‘personal shopper’ experience for gifting.
We all recognise that pre-planning for anything is always going to get you better results, and that’s the premise behind The Masked Gifter. While I do offer an expedited service for those forgotten, last-minute ‘Arghhh!’ occasions, the focus is more on planning your gifting needs in advance for the months ahead.
How does it work?
The process is simple: choose a Membership Gift Plan that works for you; complete a short form telling me about each of your lucky gift recipients; arrange a personal consultation via telephone to delve into your brief; then relax and leave the rest to The Masked Gifter!
I’ve adopted a five-step process (exploring gift concepts, curating, sourcing, wrapping, delivering) that allows me to expertly handle each stage of the journey to find the perfect gift that reflects the individuality of the recipient every time.
Plus, I offer an unbranded ‘discrete’ service for customers who want it to look like they’ve organised everything themselves (but better!)
Running alongside this, The Masked Gifter also provides a corporate gifting service that speaks more to my foundations. With years of experience working within the PR industry, I’ve honed my organisational, research and communication skills, while cementing the importance of impeccable execution with exceptional service. All these transferable skills help me ensure that every gift shines bright.
Give us an insight into a typical working day for you.
As my business is still so new, I don’t think I’ve plateaued to achieve a typical working day yet, as every day is so different! What’s a given is the mad rush to get my kids up, clothed, fed and out the door by 8am for nursery and school – it often feels like I’ve run a marathon yet it’s only 8.01am!
My work priorities shift between customer liaison, gift research and curation, mining new client opportunities, social media content development, website updates and SEO, marketing and promotions, vendor meetings, shopping, wrapping and delivering gifts… so, one day to the next is never the same! It’s a good thing for me and it keeps things fresh and keeps me energised to tackle the challenges that every new day brings.
What have been the surprises and challenges of doing business in HK?
I’ve had a lot of support from so many people in the HK community who have extended a hand to help in whichever way they can. It has really motivated me. From supportive vendors and suppliers, to professionals sharing their expertise or key contacts, right through to my mummy friends and my kids’ teachers who are helping to display my flyers, it really feels like a community spirit wanting me to succeed!
Launching this business in London would have seemed a lot more daunting for me – even though I’m so familiar with the workings of London. For some reason, Hong Kong seems more supportive of small start-ups.
A key challenge I face, which is probably shared by many expats, is the language barrier. I try to use local suppliers as much as possible – for example, with my branded wrapping options; but often it can seem like the process is made harder because I can’t speak Cantonese. Still, I’m navigating ways around it to make things work so hopefully this side will continue to become easier with time.
What neighbourhood do you live in, and why did you choose it?
We live very happily in Sai Ying Pun. When we were scouting out neighbourhoods to consider, SYP just stood out to us – it’s so close to Central yet not in the hustle and bustle, which for my kids I prefer. Plus, there’s enough to do in SYP to feel content with on a daily basis.
What are three things you like about your neighbourhood?
The wonderful and growing array of coffee shops; an eclectic mix of restaurants; and the waterfront at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park that provides a cool breeze on a warm day.
Describe your home to us.
Well, it’s small! But so are the majority of homes in Hong Kong; so, looking beyond that, it’s cosy! I’ve tried to create a welcoming environment that’s both comfortable for the kids to play in, yet calming for adults once the kids have gone to bed and there is finally some peace!
After a long day, I like to close my living room curtains to block out the highrises, light a Jo Malone candle (which I saved unlit for ages just to look at, but then finally decided to bite the bullet and actually light it!) and reflect on the day’s activity.
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
Shopping! Hence starting my gifting service as it’s never a chore for me to shop!
I love to unwind with some ‘me time’ whenever I get the chance. For me, there’s nothing better than an amazing facial or mani to make me feel human again!
Last but definitely not least is socialising with close friends. I’ve been lucky to forge some great friendships in Hong Kong, perfect for guaranteed giggles and pick-me-ups if I’ve had a long day.
Quick questions about Hong Kong: what is your favourite …
Casual restaurant? 11 Westside.
Date night restaurant? Bedu.
Bar? Shhhh… Room 309.
Local food? A prawn dumpling noodle soup shop on Queen’s Road West by Centre Street (I never know its name but it’s so darn good and amazingly priced!).
Thing to do with visitors? The skyline from the TST side at night is a must.
Thing to do with kids? Anything and everything now COVID restrictions have eased a little! At a push to choose one thing: Ryze Trampoline Park.
Nearby holiday destination? Thailand is always a winner for me; despite having been six times already, I never tire of it.
Like this? See more in our Living in Hong Kong section