A dear-but-distant old friend passed away very suddenly 10 days ago; the news completely crushed me, largely because he’d been on my mind a lot recently.

In fall 1997, John Francis Donahue and I embarked on a 2 1/2 month cross-country motorcycle trip on old vintage bikes (he on his R90, me on my R75/5); it was one of those epic adventures that changed my life.  This fall being the 20th anniversary of said trip, I’d recently dredged up old photos and journals from that trip to revisit its impact.

Cross-country trip: stopover in Colorado, September 1997

Last year I’d even hatched a plan to take a 20th anniversary version of this trip on my own, and had gotten my hands on a second, travel-worthy motorcycle to such end. But then the election happened, and the present political climate in America pretty much scuttled my appetite for this.

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Bike #2, currently living with Max, 2017.

In 1996, my two new year’s resolutions were 1, to start drinking, and 2, to start riding motorcycles: almost always in moderation and never together, which is probably why I’m still in one piece. They still hold true as the best resolutions I ever made. Far from being about recklessness, these resolutions were fundamentally about letting go of fear and control, and have served me well for over 20 years now.

I met John a few months after these resolutions: he was a bartender and a biker, and it almost seemed like he’d been placed in my path for a reason. He was right there when I went completely bike-crazy, and egged me on in the best possible ways. It didn’t take long for us to get into all manner of antics and hijinks together. John was maybe 8 years older than me, and had lived a lot of lifetimes already at that point. At a point in my young life where I was still sorting it out, he knew enough to show me how to relax, to enjoy it, and to take on all kinds of adventures and shenanigans with an open, joyful spirit.

7 bikes
7 bikes between 2 obsessive nuts, 1997.

John was game for pretty much anything. He wound up in several early M.O.B. projects: he drove the truck during our Pinays On Wheels Oakland parade appearance, and was a featured player in our first 2 karaoke videos. We even gave him one of the earliest M.O.B. honorary nicknames– Nardo– after my Tita Liling’s amazing driver in Manila.

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Pinays On Wheels! MOB at the Oakland Lunar New Year Parade, 1997
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What Now My Love? Karaoke video shoot, 1997

While John/Nardo and I didn’t last that long as a couple, we packed an epic amount of entertainment into a short window of time, and stayed friends for many years after. He moved to Chicago 10 or more years ago, and so I’d only intersect with him occasionally, if affably, on social media from that point on.

The news of his death last week was abrupt and devastating: it set me off on a mission to find even more old photos and ephemera to share with other friends who were grieving.

The most surprising, conspicuously large item I came across was a sculpture I’d forgotten that I’d made back in that era–it was a replica of a vintage motorcycle fuel tank, hand-built in clay and finished with orange paint. I’d had a solo show at Dorothy Weiss Gallery in SF that year, and had made a whole series of motorcycle tanks and other ceramic sculptures for it. Some ended up in deep storage at my parents’ house, like this one.

Sis Camille’s hand, Nardo’s tank.

The design of this tank was based on John’s Triumph Bonneville. Before I even knew him well, I’d noticed it in front of the restaurant where he tended bar, and asked if I could take some photo references of it for my new sculpture project.

As the sculpture and our connection progressed, so did the design of the tank. I removed the classic Triumph marque, replacing it with Lillet, the aperitif that the two of us were often drinking at the time, and presented the sculpture on a cluster of small, bartender’s rocks glasses. I wouldn’t call the Lillet tank a great work of art, but it’s certainly one that holds the power to connect me back to an intense and special time in my life.

I stopped making sculpture not long after this project, largely because of space and kiln limitations, but I’ve never stopped thinking of sculpture as a uniquely spatial way of working through ideas and emotions that can’t be sorted out in any other medium. It’s a funny thing to contend with memories, and with physical forms that serve as symbolic vessels. It has been strange and marvelous to return to this object, years later, that holds so much personal history and affection, and which also now stands as a memorial to a phenomenal person who was a pivotal part of my life.

Godspeed, Nardo.
Every time I drink Lillet, I lift my glass to you.
When I finally take that road trip, I hope you can hitch along for a while.

john utah
Cross-country trip: John, Utah, 1997


Earlier this year I collaborated with Berkeley’s OES (Office of Emergency Services) on a version of Lotería for disaster preparedness. The idea was to make something bilingual that would help families and kids identify necessary items and actions, and to make something scary feel more like a game that can be “won”. Our version (made with a simpler game board for shorter activities) was called “Está Listo? Lotería!”, and was part of my Kala Print Public Fellowship project.

game board3 sm
1 LOTERIA extinguidor sm
23 LOTERIA Agua sm
In light of recent disasters, most particularly the chilling footage from the September 19 earthquake in Mexico, I’ve found myself on edge again this week. If it weren’t already abundantly clear from my various projects addressing disaster and collapse, these realities have become an ongoing subject of consternation/interest to me. I’m not big on fear–it seems like a waste of time–but I am enthusiastic about being prepared and empowered.

4 LOTERIA agachese sm
Having first responders among my family and friends as of recent years  has really clarified for me how serious the odds are, and how limited any immediate governmental response will be. There are only so many fire stations; there are only so many other emergency responders. In every recent disaster, victims have been upset that the government wasn’t doing enough fast enough to help them. This is the rule, not the exception.

So, shout-out to my fellow Californians:
Get your shit together. Please. Earthquakes and fires are real.
Have an emergency plan and supplies. Bolt stuff down. Get that extra extinguisher. Get NERT, CERT or CORE training. Get basic first aid training. Stop disconnecting your smoke alarms. Stop twiddling your thumbs and hoping someone else will deal with this for you. We will ALL need to be ready to take care of ourselves and our neighbors in an emergency.
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17 LOTERIA botiquin sm 2

Here are a couple of simple, helpful resources at to get you started:

And here are links to where you can sign up for free emergency preparedness classes in SF, Berkeley and Oakland:

The SF program is NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Team):
Berkeley is CERT(Community Emergency Response Team):
Oakland is CORE (Communities of Oakland Respond to Emergency):

Many parts of California and the US call their programs “CERT”,  so use that term if you’re searching for a program elsewhere.

Please don’t avoid this because you don’t have the capacity to prepare everything right now. You don’t have to become a hardcore doomsday prepper: I’m certainly not. Honestly, I don’t have the ultimate emergency preparedness set-up yet either, but I constantly chip away at it in little ways: buying an extra gallon of water or a couple extra cans of food when I’m in a position to lug it over from the store. A transistor radio purchase here; a flashlight purchase there.  Re-reading my NERT manual since I’m still not 100% confident about how to do things like shut off my building’s gas valve if there’s a leak, or how to clear someone’s airway if they’re not breathing.
8 LOTERIA valvula sm

5 LOTERIA respiratorias sm
Last thoughts before I end this post:
Taking a little action now is so worthwhile; anything is better than nothing, and feeling helpful is always better than feeling helpless. Start with learning or accumulating small things and don’t expect to be the perfect hero, but just give it a go.  And there are many ways to take care of yourself and others, so think about your particular abilities and how best to use them: while I used to joke that my ability to make funny cartoon drawings wasn’t going to save anyone, I’ve actually manage to translate my illustration skills into projects that might actually be of help. Who knew?


For Ebony

“The arts are alive in San Francisco and we should be proud of what we have going on here. I think it’s really unique and a lot of people are looking at us from around the world…and so I think we have a lot more sharing to do. And so I hope we’re not giving up on ourselves, because there’s a lot of power here.”

Ebony McKinney, on a recent Congratulations Pine Tree podcast episode.

It took awhile to track down, but I finally got my hands on a clear enough reference image of the extraordinary Ms. Ebony Uhura McKinney that would allow me to make an illustrated portrait of her.

Ebony passed away very suddenly in late July: I didn’t have adequate words when she passed, but I hoped that I could eventually make an image of her, instead.


Ebony, I hope it’s cool with you that I did this. Based on how hard it was for me to track down a clear pic, you seemed eminently uninterested in having your photo taken. Since you did love art and illustration, though, I hope that this is something you would have been tickled by. I miss you and I don’t want anyone forgetting who you are, so I want this image to stick around awhile. (I might also make an editioned print of this if there’s interest, with all profits going to a cause that you would appreciate.)

In any case, thank you again, for everything you did, in your far-too-short time with us here.

Bay Area Memorial for Ebony Uhura McKinney
Tues Sept 12
Against the Stream and Red Poppy Art House, both in SF’s Mission District (2701 and 2698 Folsom St respectively)
Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society/6 pm
Red Poppy Art House/8 pm

The Against the Stream (2701 Folsom St) program starts promptly at 6:30pm with a meditation. People may remain at Against the Stream until 9pm.

Red Poppy Art House (2698 Folsom St) will open its doors at 8 pm for people to gather and continue celebrating Ebony with music, dance and refreshments.

like, totally

Well, we didn’t get the full experience of the Totality here in Northern California last week, but the Partiality (as I like to call it) was still reasonably amusing, if buried in Karl the Fog‘s August embrace.


Anticipating that the actual eclipse would be mostly underwhelming for those of us outside the Totality Zone, my birthday party theme for the weekend prior was “Wofftopia: Preclipse”. Our goal was to dramatically preenact the mysteries of the eclipse in our own special way. To this end, friends and I cut out black cardboard discs, and set upon a series of photos using the discs to obliterate this and that while up at an idyllic, utopian-esque cabin in coastal Sea Ranch.

The subsequent weekend was the first since the eclipse, and was largely dominated by massive community responses in both San Francisco and Berkeley to the threat of a couple of far-right rallies being planned in both cities. With the previous weekend’s shenanigans still largely on my mind, and with continued mindfulness to precepts of “using culture to move culture” from the Making Waves pdf that I’ve mentioned before, I whipped up a quick, free 11×17 poster design (still available here) that people could download from my website and print for themselves.


The posters turned out to be a huge hit; multiple friends distributed them and reported back on their popularity. To my great amusement, this image of the Wah brandishing her printout was used as the lead image for an article on SFGate and in SF Chronicle’s social media accounts, as well:

sfgate lead

Turn around, bright eyes.

Hong Kong

It’s already been a couple of months since my 3 week stay in Hong Kong earlier this summer, but it actually took me quite a while to slog through an overload of thoughts and impressions in order to come to some useful, simplified observations.

First off: I grew up in Hong Kong. I lived here from ages 2 to 7, and my sister was born there. Despite my many trips to Asia, I’d never managed to get around to returning here, though.

When Herb and I passed through the city for a few days in 2015, it was the first time I’d been back as an adult. I was immediately struck by how intensely familiar it felt, despite how dramatically different it now was. The air just felt right on my skin; the smells and sounds felt true–like…home, somehow. Given my peripatetic childhood, “home” is always a loose concept, at best–nothing I expect to feel like permanence, but familiar is always nice. I finally identified Hong Kong as the place that anchored my deepest formative memories, and determined that I’d be back for a longer stay in the future.

HK from TST on the Star Ferry
HK from TST on the Star Ferry
Admiralty sunset mirage
Admiralty sunset mirage

In the past couple of years since that first taste, it became very clear that spending time here just made sense professionally, too.  Since Hong Kong is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the globalized art world, I had an interest in learning more about what that really looked like and how it functioned, in order to better serve my teaching and studio practice.

the venerable Pedder Building, ground zero for fancy art galleries
the venerable Pedder Building, ground zero for international art galleries like Pearl Lam and Lehmann Maupin

While I spent a decent amount of time investigating local galleries and art spaces,  it felt like I barely scratched the surface of the array of venues and events here. I was disappointed to miss out on the M+ Pavilion (its show closed right before I arrived) and a few other interesting spots seemed to be entering something like a summer hiatus, but I was exceptionally glad to finally experience established arts venues like Asia Art Archive, Asia Society, Osage and Para/Site, after many years of curiosity.

installation from artist project at Para/Site addressing local agriculture politics
detail of Chloe Cheuk’s sculpture at Asia Society

I was also particularly glad to see a lot of smaller initiatives promoting art and art education at a more local community level, like Comix Zone and Oi!. Some local friends of mine also turned me on to more underground projects involving community kitchens and comics workshops with migrant domestic helpers, which were really inspiring and ultimately more compelling than the commercial galleries.

catching up with Old Master Q in the Comix Zone reading library
‘So Boring’ pay-what-you-can community cafe and activist library, Yau Ma Tei

That said, the commercial gallery scene was still fascinating in its own way, if a very glossy, moneyed way . While a couple of elite club venues felt more like vanity projects for the banking class, many legit spaces were intent on presenting serious, smart, blue chip-calibre shows that I was really impressed by.

Lee Kit at Massimo De Carlo

As a way to give my days some kind of structure and as a reason to dig into culture a little deeper, I enrolled in Mandarin language lessons for 2 weeks. I felt conflicted about not studying Cantonese, since it’s really the primary language of HK (and SF, really), but the reality is that Mandarin is more broadly useful, especially with many of my international students. Still, I love the sound of Cantonese: it’s more familiar to my ears, having grown up with it. And I do already speak a tiny bit of it, so now that I’ve got some grammar basics under my belt, hopefully I’ll continue to build up both languages, if slowly and clumsily. Baby steps.

Two weeks of Mandarin is barely enough time to get past pronunciation and some basic pleasantries, but it was still well worthwhile: my instructor was fantastic about providing cultural context for the language, and we’d often veer productively off-course from the lesson when I had questions about other phrases I wanted to understand.

(this is actually Ko Sin Tung’s piece in the Asia Society show entitled “Spectacular Seaview”, which is more of an ironic commentary on luxury real estate than an illustration of my new language skills)

But back to the initial premise of this extended stay. There’s really something to be said for addressing one’s formative experiences, which is something that had never interested me directly before now. It’s been a strange and fascinating thing to realize that all of my earliest conscious memories and impressions are HK. Some of these are dream-like: the hallucinatory images of a small child, colors, patterns and smells that are stuck to me for the rest of my life. And some of these are truly weird: for instance, while I’ve always told people I grew up in Hong Kong, I didn’t notice how odd it was that my experience of this involved growing up in a haunted house at the back of a Tsuen Wan oil terminal, wedged between all of the oil tanks, pipelines, an abattoir AND a massive cemetery.

Oil terminal, house on hill, cemetery, from a family album (abattoir behind house/below cemetery)

And so, even though the terminal was torn down years ago, I made it a personal mission to trek out to the remaining cemetery to see what I could see. This turned out to be an excellent use of an afternoon (and a lovely view, to boot).

Tsuen Wan cemetery view towards Rambler Channel, Gin Drinkers Bay and Tsing Yi

And given Hong Kong’s subtropical climate, after various sweltering adventures to cemeteries and the like, I also found it deeply satisfying to go cool off by swimming at as many beaches as I could. This is something our family did constantly when we lived here, as do many locals and expats. My childhood revolved around the water here, so I reveled in any grown-up opportunity I could squeeze in to retreat to a neighboring island or beach.

cheung chau
Cheung Chau
cheung sha
Cheung Sha
deepwater bay 2017
Deepwater Bay

I started keeping a new art journal during this trip that many of these impressions and images are making their way into: it seems a new body of work is on the way in response to all of this, so consider this post a brief introduction into what will probably be some sort of exhibition or project in the near future. Until then, I’ll leave you with this favorite image of 2 Woffords, many years ago, having a fine father-daughter moment at the very same beach you see above.

Deepwater Bay, earlier
Deepwater Bay, version 1.0