While staying at the Ban Chiang Hotel in Udonthani some years back I was still half-asleep when I meandered into the restaurant for breakfast and hadn't been looking around more than to see if there was (1) a place to plop myself down and (2) coffee available. Having scored on both points, I'd been going over the previous day's notes before wandering over to the buffet to eat. Finally looking around I saw that although it was a little past 8:00 I was only person in a restaurant which easily seated 100 or more.
There were three long buffet tables, one cook in a full starched white uniform behind the "hot" items, and two somewhat bored-looking young women watching me from beside another serving table. Figuring they might've been told to stay there until the guest (singular) had gotten their food I went over and selected my breakfast items. When I reached the egg station the man hurried over from the other end of the table to serve me, then went back to arranging things and "looking busy" in his area. The pan of fried eggs was full, but what I was served didn't seem as though it had been sitting there for long.
As I'd suspected, the women left the serving area after I'd gotten my toast, juice and fresh fruit, leaving just myself and the chef. He stood behind the eggs and waited. And waited. And waited.
I intentionally lingered over my meal, nursing a second cup of coffee while waiting to see if anyone else would be coming in, or if it would remain my private buffet. I didn't have a cell phone yet, so by 9:00 I needed to head back upstairs and wait for my friend's phone call about our day's plans. As I walked past the cook he was just replacing the two eggs he'd served me, and I took his picture. He seemed pleased that someone noticed he was there - and was even more pleased when I tipped him, saying that the food was good. I doubt he's been tipped before or since, but the element of surprise is part of the fun - for me, anyway.
Yesterday a film critic whose reviews I enjoy reading made mention about aliens from outer space finding fertile harvests of food-quality humans gathered along buffet tables, such as the one above. Having been guilty of similar behavior in the past I got a laugh out of his description of such folks:
"If you want to doubt the fundamental kindness of human beings, just go to one of those things and watch people muscling and elbowing each other to pile every white flour and syrup atrocity onto their plates, topped off with sausages. And rolls. And doughnuts. Here it is, the day has just started, and they're already wrecking themselves - and guaranteeing that they're going to feel stuffed, sick and sleepy for the next four hours. After the aliens eat everybody at the breakfast buffets, they'll move on to cruise ships." - Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle 08-22-10
I've seen this boorish, gluttonous behavior countless times, and have been amused by it. I understand and accept that it's colored by cultural differences, but some of the very worst I've ever run across has been by Westerners in Thailand - and I've done cruise ships. For a people who tend to just eat when they're hungry the Thai themselves must be horrified the first few times they see farang eating like this. It's something I've never thought to ask Thai friends about, but I will.
The next morning it was the same story - my own private buffet - until a couple of other groups arrived as I was finishing. Odd, but quiet!