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Storied: San Francisco

May 28, 2024

In Part 2, Mike, Paolo, and Rachel share the story of how TNT Traysikel came to be.
We begin with Paolo, who describes the Mission art opening where he and Mike met. Besides having similar "falling in love with San Francisco" moments, they soon learned that back in the Philippines, their brothers had been friends. They hit it off pretty much right away.
Mike learned that Paolo worked on films, including his Handsome Asians Motorcycle Club series on YouTube. In 2017, the year after SOMA Pilipinas came into existence, Mike was invited to join the nonprofits' arts and cultural group. They were looking to do a placemaking project and wanted to connect with artists to do so.
At that time, Mike was already a professor at SF State. He ran the sculpture and expanded practice program there. He had done public art on his own before, and remembered Paolo and his motorcycle riding. Mike started thinking about jeepneys and the Philippines, which were relics left on the islands after years of war. These thoughts sparked the idea for a tricycle jeepney. And so Mike and Paolo applied for a grant. Originally, they planned to build it from scratch.
Before Paolo's web series, he had made some documentaries. His first thought about TNT was that it, too, would make a cool web series. He didn't think of it as political in the beginning. But these were the years of the previous presidential administration (just before COVID), and in hindsight, he now sees a clearer picture of what it meant from Day One.

They got the grant on the idea that that the traysikel signaled the presence of Filipinos. They wanted to take older Filipinos (manongs and manangs) to buy groceries in SOMA. And they somehow wanted to make the vehicle a roving sculpture.
A friend of Mike's told them about a traysikel for sale in Modesto. They bought it, picked it up, and right away, realized that it needed a lot of work. Mike and Paolo took the whole thing apart, rewelded it, and added support. By the time the 2019 Parol Lantern Festival came around, it was ready to roll.
They showed up, just Paolo and Mike, and started playing Tagalog music from Paolo's iPhone around the traysikel. People came over and sang along, which gave them the idea for karaoke. Michelle Nguyen, a vintage scooterist friend of Paolo's, designed the look of and painted the TNT Traysikel for them.
Also at Parol 2019, Rachel learned about the project. As the karaoke was coming into being, Paolo and Michael thought, Rachel's an amazing singer—maybe she could be the karaoke host? She was in. And so they applied for a second grant, this time through the SF Arts Commission, to make a movie about the traysikel with a musical component. The three of them would become equal collaborators.
Mobile karaoke came to be in the early days of COVID, when people really wanted to release, to be out and free and with other people. They say that to them, TNT encapsulates joy, grief (the grief of what you leave behind when you emigrate), and storytelling. Their Sidenotes project focuses on one or two people sitting in the sidecar telling stories. The TNT crew collects and archives those stories. Through this work and everything else, they recently were rewarded with a Rainin Arts Fellowship to do another film. In summer 2025, they're taking TNT Traysikel on the road.
We end the podcast going around the room to hear Paolo, Mike, and Rachel's responses to this year's theme on the podcast—We're all in it.
Follow TNT Traysikel on Instagram @TNT_traysikel and on YouTube: TNT_Traysikel.
Photography by Jeff Hunt