24 in 2024: salsa parties, stinky tofu and being queer in Taiwan

<span>Noya Lee, 24, lives in Taipei and says she thinks life is getting better, even as the city becomes more expensive. ‘I’m just very positive. I don’t think other people my age feel the same way.’</span><span>Photograph: Annabelle Chih/The Guardian</span>
Noya Lee, 24, lives in Taipei and says she thinks life is getting better, even as the city becomes more expensive. ‘I’m just very positive. I don’t think other people my age feel the same way.’Photograph: Annabelle Chih/The Guardian

Twenty-four in 2024 is a series on the lives, hopes and fears of 24-year-olds around the world in a year of election uncertainty, conflict and climate change.

Where do you live and who with?

I live in Taipei. I was living in Vancouver where I studied makeup artistry, but then I came back to Taiwan in 2020 because of the pandemic. Now I live with my girlfriend. I used to live with my grandma but I got kicked out for some family reasons. That’s life. The good part now is the freedom. The bad part is I have to pay for everything. Things are getting more expensive, especially rent in this city.

Related: 24 in 2024: marriage dreams, back to school and barefoot in Tahiti

What do you do?

I’m a social media manager for a Spanish wine import company. I like to edit video on my phone, since I was 15 or 16 years old, so it’s not really hard for me. Every gen Z does TikTok, everyone does Douyin. I’m also a salsa dancer and my teacher’s assistant, and the makeup artist for our dance team. I feel really happy everyday now, like I’m useful.

What apps do you use?

Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. I spend too much on it. I think sometimes these social media platforms bring anxiety.

What do you listen to?

My music taste is a big part from my dad, who is a professional musician. So I listen to pretty much everything. I listen to Latin music … RnB is my favourite but I listen to gospel as well, and K-pop, 80s disco and stuff from the 60s and 70s. Sometimes I listen to music my dad has played, but if I listen to my dad’s music I will cry. He lives in China now. It’s a private part of my life.

What do you eat?

I’m a foodie, I like to cook. I keep a folder on Instagram of my meals. Lots are from when I lived in Vancouver so the food is more western. But my place is really tiny so I eat outside often when I’m in Taipei … street food like stinky tofu. I like hot pot. I make it at home, and I like to make my own milk tea. My milk tea is the best!

How do you socialise?

I’m an outgoing person, I talk to everyone. I don’t like to go to nightclubs so me and my boss will go to different salsa parties and make new friends.

What do you wear?

Dance clothes or yoga pants or something really comfy. But on my Instagram I look, well, some people call my appearance ‘really bitchy’. Because I always take photos not smiling, and wear a dress or sexy clothes. But if they know me they know I’m funny! It’s my style. I don’t want to change for anybody, it’s me.

Tell us about your Saturday?

Usually I work. We don’t really have regular work on weekdays. My boss lets me make my own schedule. Sometimes I’ll go back to my mum’s house, spend time with her eating dinner and see my dog. He’s 15, we got him when I was eight years old. I miss him.

How do you relax?

Cooking. Some people think it’s stressful – you have to control the fire and prepare everything, but for me it’s relaxing.

What do you want?

I used to want a lot of money because I struggle with money. That’s a fact. But I’ve changed my mind this year. I want to be happy and more relaxed with people and everything. I’m more relaxed now than I was before when I was in a toxic industry. You have to have a healthy body and then you can work. But also money. If you don’t have money you can only live in a tiny house with no windows.

What do you fear?

I think I’m afraid to be useless to other people. Even my parents. My parents always worry about me not going to college – you know, Asian parents. And they worried about my sexual orientation because being queer in this society is not easy. I have an older brother and he is the one Asian parents want, the best kid. But it’s changing now. My job really changed me, and my parents are not that worried any more. I feel like I’m not useless.

What do you want to tell us?

Related: 24 in 2024: first job, making money and avoiding ghosts in Thailand

When I was young sometimes I didn’t want people to know I’m Indigenous. I was born in 2000 it’s not like people were racist like they were in my parents generation, but still I had to face some racism from Han people and other people. I don’t know the point it changed but I think it was after … I came back to Taiwan, and I felt like society had changed. I felt a connection from me and my parents and my tribe, and the whole culture.

Come to Taiwan! Taiwan is really pretty. We have beautiful people and culture here, and we are the most liberal country in Asia!

What does the world in 2024 look like to you?

I think it’s getting better. No matter if the rental prices are getting higher and salaries are not going up. It’s still getting better. I think I’m just very positive. I don’t think other people my age feel the same way. I don’t think Taiwanese people are really outgoing, they’re shy. Two years ago I was like that, but I think I got a bit of a head start by not going to college. But gen Z struggles with everything, trying to connect with school and society and jobs, you’re an adult now, not a child any more.

Tzu-Wei Liu contributed to this article