*This is part four in a ten-part series about the central Oregon coast and how people here are fighting the recession blues.
By Dave Masko
Danny Ng is barreling down the Oregon Coast Highway in his mauve Ford Taurus. He peers out of the windshield from behind dark sunshades, his head barely clearing the steering wheel.
Danny is lost and said he’s been driving in circles trying to find the aquarium.
“I gave this trip to myself as a birthday present. I decided it was time, and I wanted to see the ocean and Oregon,” said Danny with an expression that revealed an air of conquest.
He then added: “It’s fantastic. I spotted seven whales today at Depoe Bay. It was just fantastic.”
Danny also shares that this is his first vacation in 30 years. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1979, and then settled in Hamilton, Montana. Ever since, he’s been the head chef at the popular Bamboo Garden restaurant in city’s downtown area.
“I wanted to save money,” he said while clinching his hands against the bottoms of his pockets. “I enjoy my work and saved for a trip someday. It’s been a long wait.”
Danny became a citizen in the late 1990’s and proclaims he’s now “as American as fast food.” At the same time, he’s proud of his Chinese heritage and that he was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
“Sure, I go back to Kuala Lumpur for family but America is my home,” he said.
I met Danny after he asked for directions to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. When he still seemed confused how to get there – after starting his day of exploring off very early at 6 a.m. up in Lincoln City – I decided to take him on a tour of the Aquarium Village and the adjacent aquarium.
Neciah Morrison, who works at the village shop “Barefoot Hippies,” said she found Danny “sweet” and not unlike many of the international tourists who visit the Newport area.
Morrison said tracking foreign tourists is tricky because you “don’t want to ID them as foreigners. But, they sort of give themselves away when they ask questions about America or the cost of something in dollars.”
In turn, Danny admits that he feels like a foreign tourist because of his heavy Chinese accent. And, he also enjoys looking touristy with his camera round his neck and brightly colored holiday clothing because “that’s what I see people do.”
After all, this is his first real American vacation.
According to the Oregon Tourism Commission, plenty of international visitors want to make Oregon their vacation destination. And, these visitors account for a big slice of the state’s $8.3 billion tourism industry.
Danny likes shopping along the coast. At the Aquarium Village, he doesn’t seem to walk, quite, but scoots with a snappy, can-do shuffle as he picks-up souvenir sea shells, a plaster whale ornament and a few postcards.
Like many tourists, Danny spends most of his time doing tourist things such as taking photos with things that he views as interesting. He asked Newport local Liz Buettner to take a photo of him with various pirate figures and then with me in front of the Beatles Yellow Submarine billboard that sits outside of the village shops.
“Look, this is our industry of taking care of folks,” said Buettner. “If you open up and smile at the visitors they smile back. It’s all good.”
Danny first heard about the Oregon coast after attending local history classes in Hamilton which is part of Lewis and Clark County in Montana where he lives.
“You learn all about America when you get ready to become a citizen,” he quipped. “I live in a place named for explorers Lewis and Clark. I knew of the Oregon coast. It made me want to come here.”
When asked what else interests him about this first vacation to the Oregon coast, Danny pauses to think his answer. “Come again when it doesn’t rain so much. I like it, but what’s with all the rain?”
“Well, I like it but not too much rain,” he adds with a roar of laughter.