I recently learned about Alison Singh Gee’s memoir, Where the Peacock Sing: A Palace, A Prince, and the Search for Home (St. Martins, 2014). And when I heard it’s mainly set in Hong Kong and India, I pushed it to the top of my to-read list. And boy was it worth it.
Alison Singh Gee was a renowned journalist in Hong Kong during the very years I lived there. But we wouldn’t have come across one another. While I was a poor graduate student, Gee lived the glamourous life: every night at a posh restaurant, fancy bar, leisurely junk trip around the harbor, or a party at one of Hong Kong’s private clubs.
But something was amiss. Her relationship with a British man wasn’t going anywhere and all the designer dresses and stilettos weren’t doing it either.
One day she met the India correspondent for the magazine where they both worked. Ajay Singh was someone she called upon for stories and had corresponded with briefly, but strictly on a professional basis. Meeting face-to-face was different.
Once Singh returned to India, he started e-mailing her and the two struct up a long distance relationship. Until one day he informed her that he was moving to Hong Kong to be with her. Still dating the British guy, Gee was secretly thrilled about Singh’s plans to be closer to her. His calm demeanor, six-foot stature, and the care he showed for her in his e-mails made it all worth the risk when she broke up with her British boyfriend.
But splitting with her ex entailed leaving the glamourous lifestyle to which she was accustomed. Gee assumed she and Singh would have to struggle to pay the rent and put food on the table, what with their journalist salaries and her shopping habits (it is Hong Kong, after all!). But then she learned something that would change her life. Singh’s family owned a hundred-year-old palace five hours from Delhi.
I poured through this memoir in two days, wondering how she would fit into a tight-knit traditional Indian family. Gee’s California, Chinese American, middle class background is so different from Singh’s privileged yet austere upbringing.
And then there’s the issue of her mother-in-law and sister-in-law to be. They were tepid toward her at best. Singh lovingly tried to teach her the ways of an Indian family and life in rural India, but it wasn’t easy for a Californian who was used to the fast pace of Hong Kong.
I loved her honesty and applaud her for not giving up her own identity, yet trying to find compromise in her relationship with Singh. She even writes about the difference between compromise and sacrifice.
The Hong Kong chapters were magical and brought me back to a time when expats flowed through Kai Tak to reinvent themselves in Hong Kong. I also really enjoyed the India chapters and loved reading about the palace and all the delicious food Gee and Singh ate there.
I can’t think of other memoirs out that depict relationships between Chinese and Indians, so Where the Peacocks Sing is a lovely testament to these two cultures and how they were brought together in this case in the amazing city of Hong Kong.