SF’s most exhilarating piece of public art is singing karaoke while walking the streets of SF

You haven’t known San Francisco until you’ve hurtled down its crowded streets in a Filipino tricycle while rocking Earth, Wind and Fire at the top of your lungs.

This scenario took place on a recent Thursday afternoon at SoMa, when I joined the artist Michael arcega and filmmaker Paolo Asuncion on a ride from St. Joseph’s Art Society to SFGATE offices in the San Francisco Chronicle building and beyond (SFGATE and the San Francisco Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of each other ).

I sat in the sidecar of what artists have dubbed the TNT Traysikel, a traditional Filipino motorcycle with a covered sidecar. I’m told it’s one of four in North America, although it’s common on the streets of the Philippines.

Unlike most traditional tricycles, this bike has a karaoke system, hence the belt as we hurtle down the streets. It’s been a bumpy ride – in the sidecar you can really feel every nook and cranny in the road – but I barely noticed it as I perused my Britney Spears, Marvin Gaye and Radiohead karaoke repertoire. I kept smiling the whole time.

SFGATE reporter Michelle Robertson on TNT Traysikel on September 23, 2021.

Courtesy of Paolo Asunción

Funded by a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, the trike is a thing of joy, laughter, and song, but its significance goes far beyond that, especially for Filipino Americans for whom the bicycle is a relic. from home (as was karaoke, a date at Filipino parties and gatherings, I’m told).

“It marks the presence of the Filipino American community in the United States,” Arcega told me a few weeks before the trip. “The more we project this outward, the more non-Filipino Americans will be accustomed to the idea that we are also Americans.”

Indeed, dozens of people stopped to take photos and videos as we drove, each with a smile or a puzzled look on their faces. Some people in cars or motorcycles even danced or sang with us.

“People will try to hit us almost aggressively, make sure they get our attention,” Arcega said. “It’s often a Filipino person going, ‘oh, a tricycle’, and wanting to take a picture. They stop us in the middle of traffic to take a picture, and the cars behind us get angry sometimes.

A man stops to take photos of the TNT Traysikel in San Francisco on September 23, 2021.

A man stops to take photos of the TNT Traysikel in San Francisco on September 23, 2021.

Michelle Robertson / SFGATE

TNT Traysikel, which has been beautifully hand painted by the artist Michelle “Meng” Nguyen, stands as a highly visible cultural marker in an area that some San Franciscans may not be familiar with, and that is the Philippine Heritage District of SOMA Pilipinas.

Filipino Americans have made many significant contributions in both California and San Francisco. They helped launch the United Farm Workers’ strike and forever changed the approach to affordable housing with the San Francisco International Hotel Strike of the 1970s. The TNT Traysikel serves as an essential, visible and mobile reminder.

michelle "Meng" Nguyen, who painted the vehicle, sings at TNT Traysikel karaoke on September 23, 2021.

Michelle “Meng” Nguyen, who painted the vehicle, sings at TNT Traysikel karaoke on September 23, 2021.

Michelle Robertson / SFGATE

If you don’t roam the streets of San Francisco, you can find the TNT Traysikel at St. Joseph’s Arts Society, a work of art in its own right, where Arcega and Asuncion host office hours on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ( when you can try karaoke for yourself). They also hold regular MASSES – aka “More Something Something Outreach” – in St. Joseph’s, which before it was desecrated served a large community of Filipino Americans in San Francisco.

Upcoming MASSs, which I recommend you don’t miss, include an October 3 event focused on Filipino cuisine, as well as an October 17 event on Filipino performing arts including comedy, comics, and theater. . To confirm attendance for contact tracing and food quantity, email [email protected]

Paolo Asuncion, left, and Michael Arcega, the creators of TNT Traysikel, at St. Jospeh's Arts Society in San Francisco on September 23, 2021.

Paolo Asuncion, left, and Michael Arcega, the creators of TNT Traysikel, at St. Jospeh’s Arts Society in San Francisco on September 23, 2021.

Michelle Robertson / SFGATE

Currently, Asuncion and Arcega are working on a documentary about the tricycle. The film brings together stories of Filipino Americans (and of course clips of them singing karaoke). Storytelling, Arcega told me, serves as a home postcard for many.

Bayanihan Community Center seen from TNT Traysikel on September 23, 2021.

Bayanihan Community Center seen from TNT Traysikel on September 23, 2021.

Michelle Robertson / SFGATE

“People always tell stories when they see the tricycle, like, ‘Oh, the last time I was on a tricycle was in the Philippines.’ “Oh, my uncle is a tricycle driver. “Oh, this woman who was like my family owns a bunch of tricycles,” Asuncion said. “These anecdotal stories made us think we need to start collecting stories.”

Recently, the tricycle went viral in the Philippines when a video showing it crossing the Golden Gate Bridge was posted on social media, Arcega said.


“We organized weekly interviews. We have been on national television several times to explain how this humble tricycle is so ubiquitous it is almost hated, ”said Arcega. “And all of a sudden, it’s on this incredibly iconic American Bridge.”