Hua Hin offers an endless array of choice for food lovers, from phad thai fried noodles, seafood and roti stalls in the night market to a la carte dishes at the numerous fancy restaurants. But there's one place that stands out from them all - the roadside Khao Rad Kaeng-style eatery (rice topped with curry) run by Chanchai Chatamero, or Lung Kluay as Hua Hin schoolchildren and their parents call him.
Lung Kluay offers free buffet breakfast to children everyday. Many people think he's crazy, wondering why a street food vendor was being so nice and what he expected in return.
His answer is very simple.
"I feel good doing it. I am happy when I see kids eating meals I cooked before heading to school," said Lung Kluay who has been serving free breakfast to kindergarten and secondary school (Grade 9) students since June 2002.
On average, some 50 children visit his eatery where he and his wife Julaiporn cook a variety of yummies for sale and charity every morning. His eatery is on a street off Phetkasem Road near San Paolo Hospital.
Life was hard until a decade ago when the mushrooming of convenient chain stores forced him to close his grocery. He sold all his assets to pay off debts.
"It was a very difficult time for us. I had no money so I know exactly the pain of not having anything to eat," Lung Kluay recalled with tears rolling down his cheeks.
"I have been through many difficult times in my life and I know that driven by pangs of hunger good people can become evil," he said.
Determined to stand on his feet again, he borrowed 5,000 baht from his relative and opened a food stall. During the first two years there weren't many customers, but he made enough to make ends meet.
When the food stall started turning in reasonable profit, he thought of paying back to society.
"Many of my customers brought their children along. Some bought just one dish for their two children, and then there were kids who could not even finish what on their plate, but their parents still paid the full price," he said.
A dish cost 10-20 baht and he didn't feel comfortable taking their money. After discussing with his wife, they decided to serve free breakfast to children.
Every school day, Lung Kluay cooks egg-based dishes, soups and sausages. It costs him around 500 baht daily but he is happy with it. He lays out the dishes, desserts and banana on the table. That's why kids call him Lung Kluay, or Uncle Banana. And he doesn't mind even when they pack food in their lunch boxes at the end of a hearty breakfast.
As a mark of affection, his food stall is known among locals as Khao Kaeng Lung Kluay.
"I want students, especially those born in poor families, to have food before they go to school because with a full stomach they will concentrate more on their studies," he said, noting that since he started the free breakfast his shop has attracted more customers.
Lung Kluay is never short of good ideas. Last year, he started offering scholarships to students finishing in the top ten in their class.
Around 100 students have benefited from the scheme so far. Those topping their class receive 1,000 baht per semester, those coming second get 500 baht and the rest 300 baht. It helps ease the burden on their parents.
"The scholarship is like an encouragement for the students to study harder and be good at school," he said. "My dream is to help children as much as I can, and as long as I can I will make the effort."
However, there is one thing that bothers him: he and his food stall might be evicted if the Hua Hin municipality goes ahead with its "clean street" campaign.
"My stall is the only one left on this side of the street. If I have to move, I don't know if I would be able to find a new place," he said. But he is not too worried by the prospect. "If we are doing something good, there's no need to be afraid of anything."
Lung Kluay has only one offspring, a 17-year-old daughter, and she is extremely proud of him. To him, that is the best compliment or recognition he can receive from anyone. He expects no rewards or donations for his charity work.
"I am happy as long as parents realise the importance of the breakfast I lay out for children. When I see them eating, I feel good and proud of what I am doing for them," he said.
He is determined to keep up his good work as long as he can.
If you have trouble finding Lung Kluay's food stall, ring 032-532-621 and 09-331-2621.
Bangkok Post December 05 www.bangkokpost.com
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