A strange and most silent year.

These photos are completely unrelated to the following text, but you’re welcome to draw whatever tenuous links you see fit. They’re self-portraits my parents made me take of myself when I was back in Sydney in July because I wasn’t in the country for either of my graduation ceremonies and they have loudly lamented the absence of framed photos of me in cap and gown(s) ever since. I don’t think these are what they had in mind.

The H-key on my laptop is broken.

Not constantly, mind you. It’s on and off, striking only at the most inconvenient times – mid- writing deadline about Chloe the Chinese anti-actress, mid- passive aggressive email about photography usage rights, mid- emphatic text about highlighter and hitchhiking and Challah French Toast with Honey and a Hashbrown, Hahahahaha. I would + C, + V lowercase h’s whenever I encountered an h. One doesn’t realise how much we use the humble h. It’s the ninth most frequently used letter in the English language and general press reporting. Eighth on Wikipedia. Trust me – I Googled it.

By the fifth day of each h-less episode (they range in length from one day to two weeks), I would find myself starting emails with “Good Morning!” or “[insert name] – appreciate your message!” instead of “Hi!” or “Hello!” or “What’s happening!”. Autocorrect and Google’s “did you mean _____?” became my crutches. But then, I’d be writing to my agent: “T_e problem _ere is t_at my role wit_ the magazine _as not_ing to do wit_ t_e existence of my readers_ip. T_e journalist knows t_at.” I’d have gone to such extreme lengths to avoid use of h’s that I’d have no h’s in my immediate typing history to + C, + V.

I Googled it. _undreds of ot_er 15” Macbook Pro 2017 users lamented t_e temperament of t_eir _-keys. They’d tried everything: hitting it harder, checking for debris, vacuuming their keyboard. Nothing. Have you tried turning your laptops off and on again? asked the unsuspecting Apple moderator on the forum. A barrage of abuse ensued. The Apple moderator recommended that everyone present take their laptops in to their nearest Apple store. Here’s a link were you can find your nearest Apple store, said the Apple moderator.

I finally get my s_it together and walk the 800m to the nearest Apple store. For the record, I hate Apple stores. I hate most spaces with too many people who are standing, anxious and/or confused – cocktail parties, Apple stores, cocktail parties, airport security lines, cocktail parties, backstage at anything ever. I am short and I don’t drink. Don’t @ me.

Paul or Will or Dave or Charlie stands three strides from the front door, his iPad poised to be of assistance. Pauls and Wills and Daves and Charlies who work in tourist-heavy customer service or retail always look a lil like Lil Dicky, and always get that polite panic behind their retinas when they make eye-contact with a prospective customer who bears a sizable probability of not speaking English. Oh no. Oh no. What if she doesn’t speak English? She has blue hair, though. Maybe she is Korean. I really enjoyed Parasite. Oh no. Smile. I don’t want to seem like I don’t want to help her. I want to help her. Smile harder. I am woke. I want my boss to see that I want to help her. I want to help her! She is holding a laptop! Will she think I’m rude if I speak loudly and slowly? Do they have pronouns in her culture? I am woke. I am woke. I am woke. Their voice comes out a little higher than you’d imagine their voice usually comes out. Hi! Welcome! To! Apple! I’m Paul! Or Maybe! Charlie! How! Can! I! Help! You!

My H-Key is broken, I say.

In these circumstances, my Australian accent always broadens inexplicably. I make a mental note to never do that again.

(Spoiler: I do it again, and again, and again – why is my first instinct always to make Pauls and Wills and Daves and Charlies feel comfortable with their purported wokeness? S_it.)

…why is my first instinct always to make Pauls and Wills and Daves and Charlies feel comfortable with their purported wokeness?

There was The Uber Pool in which the other rider declared within 30 seconds of me getting into the Prius that he wouldn’t live in China if I paid him, then apologised for assuming my race. I’m Chinese, I said. I wouldn’t live in China if you paid me, he declared – again. I told him not to worry – nobody was paying him to do anything. You people don’t understand, he interrupted, I would never live in China. Ok, I said, Siri is listening.

There was The 45th Time and The 46th Time that I wrote to my agent: “The problem here is that my role with the magazine has nothing to do with the existence of my readership. The journalist knows that.” The journalist knows that, my agent agreed. So why, pray tell, does the journalist feel the burning need reduce an entire career of writing, shooting, consulting, directing, to the fact that I have followers on an app? I don’t know, my agent sighed. Does the profession of journalism no longer demand objective research and fact-checking beyond the individual’s myopic view of the world through the warped lens of said app? Small jabs make small people feel powerful, said my Mother. Water off a duck’s back.

There was the 73rd time A Middle-Aged Man told me I had A Strong Handshake For A Girl. There was The Other Middle-Aged Man who, when I knocked on the photo studio door asking to show some of my artists the space and pardon the interruption, curled his lip, looked me up and down and up and snarled, Who are you!? I can’t hear you! There was The Further Middle-Aged Man who cursed out my producer and I for paying his female actress client less than her male actor costar and how dare we fly her Economy when her male costar was flying Business? In actual fact, his female client was being paid the exact same rate as her male costar and nobody was flying Business on an independent short film production and could you please advise as to where you might have received this information as we’d be happy to send you contract and flight confirmations of said male costar to confirm our belief that men and women should be equally compensated for the same work. But he’d come too far in his bluff. He had to dig in his heels to back up his slippery slope. He lied and he lied and he lied until we hung up the phone and said what a shame it was that we couldn’t work with such a brilliant actress because her agent was a brick. And there was yet Another Middle-Aged Man who’s a head shorter than me and always stands too close to women to assert the dominance that he lacks, such that you end up shuffling around a crowded room in a Sick Waltz of Over-Compensation. On the opening night of a project of mine, he stepped within two inches of my face.

You’ve pulled off this project because you’re competitive, he said. Competitive isn’t the right word, I said. No Margaret, you don’t understand, he slurred – you’re definitely competitive. I pulled off this project because I have standards, I said before excusing myself from the Sick Waltz of Over-Compensation. Small jabs make sad people feel powerful, said my brother. Water off a duck’s back.

And then, there was The 672nd Time that Other Middle-Aged Men* saw the degree to which I will crawl across broken glass to the finish line on a project no matter the odds or the cost. Sadly, “resign” is not in my vocabulary – usually to my detriment. They saw it, and they abused it. One such Man looked me straight in the figurative eye during a phone conversation about a project for which nobody was getting paid for the ridiculous degree of work they were already doing. He had the nerve that only a Middle-Aged Man can have to say: “But I’m not getting paid for this”. Small jabs make incompetent people feel ok with their incompetence, said my father. Water off a duck’s back.

As to the silence, I’ve gotten away with just retweeting Shakespeare (which I’d highly recommend – it’s hilarious) and building obscure slideshows of how I see the world. But the reality is, I’m fucking tired. When I’m tired (or hangry), I go silent. I’ve told myself for the past decade of working that I do it to myself. I reap what I sow. I have a mortgage to pay. I reap what I sow. I have friends of African descent who are still told by HR that they can’t wear their hair naturally. That’s fucked up. I don’t have it half as bad as that. This? Interactions Like This? This I do to myself. I choose to interface with this number of people, which increases the likelihood of Interactions Like This.

And yet, everything is relative. I suppose at some point, you’re so tired that you find your voice again. So here we are. We’re back in motion after a long drought of thought. My skin is clear, my taxes are paid, my heated opinions are back on airwaves beyond the closed doors of my dumpling dinners with friends and family, and the H-key on my laptop is still broken. At least, I can only assume that it is. It hasn’t had an episode in two months, but no doubt it will strike again at the most inconvenient time. Murp_y’s Law.

Trust me – I Googled it.

*NB: This is not an attack on Middle-Aged Men. They are simply an unfortunate common denominator in my strange and silent year. We all know correlation is not causation.

Shop the post


Margaret Zhang 章凝 is an Australian-born-Chinese filmmaker, photographer, consultant and writer based between New York and Shanghai. Since establishing her website in 2009, Zhang has gone on to work with global brands including CHANEL, Swarovski, YEEZY, Bulgari, Gucci, MATCHES, Under Armour, and Louis Vuitton in a wide range of capacities both in front of and behind the camera, while completing her Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Laws at The University of Sydney. Zhang’s directing, photography, and styling has been employed by the likes of VOGUE, L’Officiel, Harper’s BAZAAR, NOWNESS, and ELLE internationally. She has been listed in Forbes Asia’s 30Under30 and TimeOut’s 40Under40, and her work has been recognized as shaping the international fashion industry by the Business of Fashion BoF500 Index for four consecutive years. CNN has identified Zhang as a leading fashion photographer in Asia and ELLE named her the region’s most influential digital voice. She went on to be the first Asian face to cover ELLE Australia. In 2016, she co-founded BACKGROUND, a global consultancy for which she specialises in Western-to-Chinese and Chinese-to-Western cultural bridging for a range of luxury, lifestyle, and brand initiatives. In 2017, she exhibited a series of 39 unseen photographic works as a solo show in Sydney, and premiered her first short film – a 15-minute exploration of her visceral relationship with classical music on both performance and abstract planes – to critical acclaim. In 2018, co-curated the first annual FOREFRONT Summit focused on inter-industry problem-solving at all scales of business. From this king summit, Zhang developed FOREFRONT+ – a round table series of candid conversations covering subject matters of universal concern. In 2019, THE FACE Magazine engaged Zhang as Creative-Director-at-Large for Asia for its relaunch. Zhang is currently working on her first feature film.