Similar to a hot oil fondue, steamboat is the Chinese
descendent of the Mongolian hot-pot and is commonly eaten during Chinese New Year.
Usually a large, decorated, silver or gold dish of soup (often tom yam), it is placed in the middle of the table, where it is used to cook a myriad of meats, fishes and vegetables. Once the food is finished, glass noodles, or tung hoon, are added to the remaining soup (which has now taken on much of the flavour) and then eaten.
Much like fondue, there is a clash of utensils (soup ladels and chopsticks in this case, probably less dangerous than forks unless you're Takeshi Kitano) as everyone fights to grab the chunkiest pieces from the soup. This is perfectly normal, and is in fact the only way to eat when in the company of the insanely kiasu, or else you'll starve.
It is not uncommon to find the humble rice cooker being used instead of a fancy dish. It's far more practical anyway, and you don't have to worry about scratching it and then having Great Auntie Feng take away your hong bao/ang pow.