Trip Report: Singapore Airlines Premium Economy

In my last post, I wrote about my experience flying in premium economy class on Lufthansa. Recently, I have flown twice on Singapore Airlines in their premium economy cabin: once to Paris and the second time to Australia and New Zealand. I’ll do a quick review of the experience here as a point of comparison.

The planes

On my flights between Singapore and Paris and Singapore and Melbourne, I flew on the Airbus A380, the largest passenger plane flying. On the flight between Singapore and Auckland, I flew on the Boeing 777-300ER. Both planes feature premium economy class in a 2-4-2 configuration.

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Above, the Airbus A380 after our arrival in Paris.

Of the planes, I prefer the Boeing 777. The Airbus A380 is a massive, double-deck plane and it simply feels like a huge plane with heaps of passengers in it. In reality, the A380 has only 379 seats (Lufthansa puts 509 on the same plane!) so it is not as densely configured. Nonetheless, the Boeing 777-300ER has only 264 passengers so feels much less crowded.

The cabin

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On the Airbus A380, there are 38 premium economy seats in a 2-4-2 layout. The seat is 19.5 inches wide with a 38-inch pitch. According to the stats on SeatGuru.com, this is 1.5 inches wider than on Lufthansa. That said, I did not find the seat any more spacious.

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There is a large seat back monitor, which is controlled from a remote in your armrest. The screen appears marginally larger than on Lufthansa but that doesn’t make a huge difference.

The seat has many storage areas and useful amenities, including an individual power port and a USB plug. The magazine pouch has a cheap, plastic feel and was broken on two of the seats. Overall, the seat was comfortable although I found it more so if I place a pillow on the front of the seat cushion under my legs.

There is ample legroom and, as with other airlines’ premium economy, each passenger has his or her own armrests. There is also a nice pillow and large blanket for each passenger along with noise-cancelling headphones.

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As a comparison, here is a view of the regular economy class during the flight. It is in a 3-4-3 layout and feels considerably more crowded.

The service

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Before departure, the flight attendants did not offer beverages – different than on Lufthansa. Menus were placed in the seat back pockets. Singapore does offer a “book the cook” option, allowing you to select certain main courses in advance, a feature Lufthansa does not offer in premium economy.

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After takeoff, warm towels were handed out followed by a service of drinks and nuts. The signature Singapore Sling cocktail is available as well as a full selection of premium beverages.

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The flight attendants are friendly and attentive. They are more polished than at Lufthansa, in terms of having very specific customer service phrasing they are expected to use. Some people perceive this as robotic, other people like it.

As an example, when Tawn asked for a beverage that they didn’t have on the cart, the flight attendant said she would be happy to get him the drink but it would be a few minutes – but would he like something else while waiting?

I thought that was a good touch.

Also, when I was boarding, the flight attendant saw my boarding pass, recognized my seat number, and said “Oh, 35D! You have the special meals ordered, a XYZ for dinner and XYZ for breakfast.” I was impressed that he remembered that off the top of his head.

The meals

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Meal services are decent, although I liked the ones on Lufthansa better. Here is a braised beef dish with mashed potatoes.

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There as also a Chinese-style stir fried chicken with rice, which was a little oily but tasty. Notice that for this flight served out of Paris, we had a little block of cheese.

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The breakfast service before arriving into Singapore was sad. This quiche and hash brown was limp.

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And the waffle was soggy and the egg rubbery. Overall, a poor showing from Singapore airlines.

While I do not show them here, I did try the “book the cook” meal service when fling to the southern hemisphere. While I liked having the option of choosing a meal in advance, I was not overwhelmed by the quality of the catering. Only the cumin-spiced lamb chops out of Melbourne were impressive.

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For the Paris flights, premium ice cream was served – a nice treat.

The timing of the service was generally fine. The exception was the overnight flight from Melbourne to Singapore. Only 7.5 hours in length and departing at midnight, there is only a light snack service to begin with (which I slept through) and a full meal is served before landing. Unfortunately, they started the service 2.5 hours before landing. Had they pushed it back another 30-60 minutes, it would have allowed people to get more rest.

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In terms of inflight entertainment, Singapore Airlines has a huge selection of movies, TV shows and music to keep you occupied. The selection was wider than on Lufthansa, although there is only so much time you have on the flight so on either airline you will be able to find something to fill your time.

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The screen is high-resolution and bright and the controls were responsive. Unfortunately, the screens were not touchscreen, requiring you to fiddle with the handset controller.

The lounges

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Singapore Airlines has just recently opened a new lounge in Bangkok on the D concourse, a location superior to their previous lounge on the A concourse. The lounge is beautiful and continues to have a wide variety of foods and beverages.

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A selection of food in the old lounge in Bangkok

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Above, in Paris all the Star Alliance carriers use a shared lounge facility which has a good selection of food and beverage but which can become quite crowded and is also a bit dark.

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Most disappointing is the “Gold Lounge” in Singapore, especially the one in Terminal 3. Singapore Airlines, like all Star Alliance members, welcomes other members’ gold-status passengers. In Singapore, their main hub, they have a separate lounge just for non-Singapore gold members. These lounges are not that nice: crowded, limited food selection and no showers or other amenities.

Overall

Premium economy is usually a reasonable value: more space and comfort without breaking the bank. Depending on the route and when you fly, Singapore offers some attractive prices for this good service.

Comparing Lufthansa and Singapore, they are quite similar. Singapore has a better entertainment system. Lufthansa has better food and a slightly better seat. Singapore has friendlier flight attendants but slow service. Lufthansa has service that gives you more time to sleep but with flight attendants who, while professional, are not as buttery with their words. Lufthansa offers better lounge experiences across the system; Singapore offers good lounges for non-Singapore passengers everywhere but in their hub city.

At the end of the day, if the two airlines offered me the same price on the same route, I would choose Lufthansa as I think the experience was just slightly better. But you will not go wrong with Singapore at all.

In a few weeks, I will be flying EVA Air, the Taiwanese carrier, on their premium economy service. I will post another report covering that trip.

 

Trip Report: Lufthansa Premium Economy

This is the first of two reports about premium economy experiences. For longer-haul flying, I am reaching a point where being crammed into economy is painful but business class is unaffordable. The compromise is to pay a bit extra for premium economy which is sometimes quite a good value. In this report, I cover a round trip between Bangkok and Lisbon (returning from Barcelona) on Lufthansa made in October 2016.

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The plane

Lufthansa adjusts the capacity on the Bangkok-Frankfurt route throughout the year to match demand, everything from a 509-seat Airbus A380 to a 251-seat Airbus A340-300, which was used both directions on my trip.

The Airbus A340 is a comfortable widebody plane but the type was introduced in 1991 so it is not the latest technology. The normal economy class configuration is 2-4-2.

The cabin

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The premium economy cabin, which is located between the business class and economy cabins, has only 28 seats, arranged 2-3-2.  These seats are 18″ wide and have between 38-39″ of pitch, the distance from one point on the seat to the same point on the next row.

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Leg room is quite reasonable although when the person in front of you reclines, you will still find it difficult to get out unless the person in the aisle seat gets up. There are plenty of storage spaces for items and there is a foot rest on the seat in front of you. Bulkhead seats instead have a leg rest that extends from the seat cushion.

One feature of these seats is that there are two armrests for each passenger so no fighting for personal space. This is a huge advantage over regular economy.

Large touch-screen monitors are available at each seat. The image is bright and the responsiveness of the system is good.

The seats are comfortable although a bit firm. After a few hours, I ended up sitting on my pillow to provide extra padding. Recline is quite deep but I still find it difficult to get any meaningful sleep. On the outbound flight, I probably slept about four hours total. On the return flight, less than two.

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As a comparison, here is a view of economy class mid-flight. You can see the premium economy cabins in the distance, separated only by fabric dividers hanging from the overhead bins. You will notice the monitors in economy are smaller and there is an extra seat in each row resulting in only 17″ width and narrower armrests.

The service

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Before departure, water or juice is served and menus are distributed. There is no advance meal booking beyond the usual dietary and religious meals. The selection consisted of two main courses. For these flights, each approximately 12 hours, there is a main meal and then a breakfast closer to arrival.

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After reaching cruising altitude, a drink service commenced. There was a wide selection of beverages and premium economy includes sparkling wine and a premium beer.

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The outbound dinner was a choice of pork Panaeng curry or pan-seared veal sausages with onion sauce, sauerkraut and mashed potato. I chose the latter. It came with an appetizer of coleslaw with smoked chicken breast and a dessert of apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

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Before landing in Frankfurt, a breakfast of cheddar cheese omelette with Lyonnaise potato, ratatouille and tomato with fresh fruit was served. There was no other choice.

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For the flight from Frankfurt back to Bangkok, we had a choice of beef goulash with carrot zucchini stew and potato leek mash (which I chose) or tomato mozzarella fiorelli with basil cream sauce and tomato concasse. The appetizer was a seasonal salad with pumpkin slices and Italian dressing. The dessert was mango pie with creme fraiche.

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Breakfast before landing in Bangkok was scrambled egg with cheddar cheese accompanied by diced chicken breast, Chinese vegetables (which seemed to be missing) and potato wedges with a dessert of vanilla curd cream with blueberries.

Overall, the food quality was good and the quantity was sufficient. The food is served on ceramic dishes with metal cutlery and glass stemware, which creates a nicer impression.

During the flight, light refreshments (sandwiches, fruits, pretzels, candy bars) were available for snacking.

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Shortly before landing, small chocolates were distributed throughout the cabin. Service from the flight attendants was friendly but efficient. It was notable that effort was made to complete the first meal service quickly, presumably so passengers could go to sleep as both flights are overnight.

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The inflight entertainment system worked well and has many options. By the return flight, I did feel like I was running out of things that piqued my interest. Thankfully, the seats have USB and power ports, so I was able to pull out my laptop and work and use my iPad to read and watch shows.

The system does have a nice maps feature that shows computer-generated views from the tail and the cockpit of the plane. This gives a perspective of what the outside world looks like although it is misleading because the above pictures of our final approach into Frankfurt shows daylight but it was in fact before sunrise.

The lounges

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Premium economy does not come with lounge access but as I have “gold” status with one of the Star Alliance carriers, I was eligible to use the lounge. In Bangkok, I was able to use the main THAI Airways lounge. Other lounges closed too early to use as the Lufthansa flight departs after midnight.

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In Frankfurt, I was able to use the Senator lounges, which are very modern, have a huge selection of food and drink, and offer showers for transiting passengers.

Overall

I particularly liked the 2-3-2 layout in the plane. The middle seat next to me with empty both ways, giving me even more space. The food was tasty and good quality. And the lounge in Frankfurt was truly refreshing. Connecting through Frankfurt is convenient and results in efficient travel times to Europe from Bangkok.

The seat cushions were a bit firm for my tastes (although I find this on a lot of planes), the selection of inflight entertainment was a bit uninspired and Frankfurt is not the most pleasant airport to connect through as it is drab and not particularly intuitive to navigate.

I managed to get an attractive price for this flight, only about US$ 1,400 round-trip. The usual premium economy price is closer to US$ 1,800. The extra space and increased comfort made the trip much less taxing and, for the money, was a good value. Lufthansa’s premium economy would be worth taking for future trips.

 

Sous vide chicken fried steak

While I do not get to play around in the kitchen as much as I would like, I was fortunate that my friend Nat invited me to help cook dinner on Saturday for a group of our friends. He is always up for experimenting so this gave us the chance to try an idea I have had in mind for a few weeks: sous vide chicken fried steak.

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Chicken fried steak, in its classic rendition, is a usually inexpensive cut of steak pounded to tenderize it, coated and fried like a piece of chicken and served with gravy. During season thirteen of Top Chef, chef Jeremy Ford tried the technique of cooking a nice cut of steak in the sous vide, “gluing” chicken skin to the steak using transglutaminase and then frying the end result so the chicken skin was crispy. I was interested in trying this technique.

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We followed a similar preparation, cooking a very nice grass-fed filet mignon in the sous vide until rare and then slicing it into medallions. The benefit of sous vide is that by cooking the food in a vacuum-sealed bag immersed in a water bath, the entire piece of food reaches exactly the desired temperature and then cooks no further. Instead of the outside of the steak being cooked and the inside being raw, as might happen when you fry or roast a steak, the entire cut was a consistent 131 degrees Fahrenheit and still a pretty pink.

As the meat cooked, about two-and-a-half hours, we skinned whole chickens, basically turning them inside out. This was an interesting experience, something I have never done before. The end result are these sheets of chicken skin (seen layered in plastic wrap, above) with little “fingers” of skin like a glove where the legs were.

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After the meat was finished and sliced, we sprinkled it liberally with the transglutaminase.  (From the molecularrecipes.com website, “Transglutaminase is an enzyme that stimulates a bonding process at the cellular level with the amino acids lysine and glutamine in proteins. It’s not technically glue, though that’s what it’s often referred to as. It’s a protein that’s present naturally in both plant and animal systems. The product used in kitchens is created from natural enzymes using a fermentation process.”)

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I then wrapped the chicken skin around the steak. Trying to get the chicken skin cut to the right size was a bit tricky, and some extra transglutaminase was needed where there was overlap of the skin.

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Normally, it takes about two hours of refrigeration for the “glue” to firm up. But a quick trip back in the sous vide for about ten minutes sped up the process, resulting in this tightly-wrapped packages that looked a bit like duck breasts.

When it was nearing time to serve, we dredged the pieces in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper and chili powder and fried them in about two centimeters of rice bran oil. The end result was a crispy skin and a steak that was a perfect medium rare. We served this with an onion gravy and salad.

All in all, the result was positive. We could experiment with more consistent portion control – sizes of steaks varied a bit – and maybe a liquid batter instead of a flour batter. But, overall, I would rate this a culinary success.

 

Thank you President Obama

As January 20, 2017 approaches and, with it, the inauguration of President Trump, I want to thank President Obama. His was the first campaign for which I contributed money and time. Future generations will write his legacy and, just like any politician, he is imperfect. Nonetheless, I want to thank President Obama for three reasons:

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Thank you for conducting yourself unlike any president in my lifetime, with a dignity, intelligence and professionalism that brought honor to the office. There have been no real scandals and your conduct has been unimpeachable – literally “no drama Obama”. You showed love and respect for Americans of all origins and faiths, championed marriage equality and treated women as equals – in short, you behaved humanely and justly. As the leader of our nation, but also as a father and a husband and a man, we could do far worse than the model you set.

Thank you for your political accomplishments. It is easy to forget how dire the world economy was in January 2009. The economy is, by almost any measure, in great shape. Far more Americans have health insurance now than when you took office. In an uncertain world, you kept America safe and out of any new military entanglements. And you accomplished this with a Congressional minority for six years, where Republicans explicitly made it their mission not to govern but to stymie you. Yes, you could have accomplished much more in many key areas, but your accomplishments are significant.

Thank you for risking your life for the country. All presidents are targets for unbalanced people with extremist agendas – thus the constant Secret Service protection. But as the first president of color, you faced a level of hatred unmatched in modern history. Especially in an age where a large percentage of Americans are still convinced you are foreign-born, I am startled that there were no attempts on your life. That was a very real risk you faced and I thank your for doing so. My nieces and young people everywhere are growing up in a nation where having a president of color isn’t an unimaginable future but rather an unquestioned reality.

The third point reminds me that there are some other people whom I must thank:

In a crowded field of first ladies who have been positive role models, First Lady Michelle Obama especially stands out. Her class, style, intelligence and caring has been an inspiration for all of us. The loving partnership between her and the President is a joy to watch.

Vice President Joe Biden is a class-act example of public service. A humble, big-hearted man who has never sought power or personal gain, but rather has always sought to serve and contribute to the betterment of our nation.

And his wife Jill Biden so rarely receives the credit she deserves. While serving as Second Lady of the United States she has continued her primary job as an English professor at a nearby community college, contributing on a local level to the next generation.

There is no knowing how the next four years will turn out, but I invite you to join me in giving thanks to President Obama, the First Lady, Vice President Biden and the Second Lady for their service to the country these past eight years.

 

92,000 miles and 99 nights later

This evening we bid adieu to 2016 and ring in 2017. As I reflect on the year and the lessons learned, one of the most striking is how much I was on the road: 92,234 miles flown and 99 nights spent in hotels. That’s the most I’ve traveled since 2005, when I moved to Thailand.

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Some interesting statistics from my travel: I flew 59 flights covering 208 hours, resulting in an average flight of 1,563 miles with a flight time of 3:34. Not as much as many people but still a significant amount of time in the year.

The goal for next year is to manage my schedule more effectively. I may not reduce my travel quite as much but do hope to reduce the number of overall nights on the road a bit and balance the time more effectively between on the road and at home.

 

 

What are you going to do next?


Wow, what a surprise ending to last night’s episode of The West Wing! Where does Aaron Sorkin come up with these plot twists? Truth really is stranger than fiction. That said, as the dust settles after Donald Trump’s victory, I think all of us need to ask ourselves, “How can I help build a stronger, more united America?”

Many of my friends expected and wanted a Clinton victory – as did I – and now are sorely disappointed. Many are printing and posting some pretty unkind words and thoughts on social media about the people who voted for President-elect Trump. Some are saying they want to unfriend anyone who voted for Trump.

That seems less like a solution and more like another serving of the same slop that led us to the political cluster-bomb that this election season was. 

Here’s the message I take from election 2016: there are a lot of Americans who feel anxious about the future. They don’t trust the system anymore and they believe – with some accuracy, I suspect – that the system is rigged against them and in favor of the elite.

Many people who feel that way found their candidate in Donald Trump. And many more found their candidate, but that candidate lost in the primaries to Hillary Clinton.

I think it is time that all of us recognize that there are some serious inequalities and systemic problems in America, and it’s time for us to come together and find common ground and common-sense solutions. There are many issues on which people disagree. But there are many more areas we have in common. 

Ultimately, all of the people who voted are human beings and, as such, worthy of respect. All of us have loved ones and families. All of us have hopes and dreams. All of us have worries and concerns. And all of us have a legitimate right to want a better future for ourselves and our loved ones. 

It’s important to remember that we are privileged to live in a country where we have the opportunity to exercise our free will and vote for the candidate of our choice. And what’s great about our system is that if the candidates don’t deliver the goods, we have an opportunity to vote them out of office in the next election.

In the meantime I would ask all of you, whether or not you voted for the President-elect, what are you going to do to help make America a stronger, more united nation? What are you going to do to help write the future, instead of taking your toys and running home just because the game didn’t turn out the way you want?

Lost Heaven Silk Road in Shanghai

Panda Express does not give you a proper view into the regional variety of Chinese cuisine. Like in any large nation, the cuisine of China has substantial regional differences. While in Shanghai this summer, I tried something I’m not very familiar with – the cuisine of Western China – at a restaurant called Lost Heaven Silk Road in the Jing’an district.

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Based on the cuisine found along the ancient trading route, the menu offers foods from Xi’an and Dunhuang all the way to India, Pakistan and Persia. The restaurant owes much of its interior design specifically to Dunhuang, a small city in Gansu Province in the northwest of China, famous for its hundreds of caves decorated with ancient Buddhist art.

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Our first dish was cold oat noodles, a specialty of western China where oats are more common than rice or wheat. The noodles were served with a slightly spicy sauce flavored with peanuts and were a refreshing start to the meal.

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There were many meat dishes, especially good were the lamb ribs. The meat was flavorful, tender and the sauces added a lot to the dish. The skewers pictured above had a nice spice rub with flavors of cumin prominent.

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We also had Xi’an rice noodles, which are flavored more by sesame oil and were more familiar as a Chinese dish.

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There were several vegetable dishes including this slightly curried okra dish that was not the typically slimy okra you might be familiar with. These would seem not out-of-place in an Indian or Pakistani restaurant.

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They also served so-called “Tang wei hu bing” buns, literally Chinese flavor foreign bread – pita bread stuffed with grilled meat and coriander. The flavors and style of more Middle Eastern cuisine was particularly noticeable here.

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For dessert we had a Kashmir style rice pudding. While nothing pretty to look at, the cardamom flavored pudding was pleasant.

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And a final sweet that left no doubt about where the far end of the silk road lies: baklava.

The restaurant is beautiful and the food is tasty. While one could quibble with its authenticity, I think they illustrate beautifully the reality that a lot of food is fusion, tracing the path of trade and migration and bringing together the ingredients, techniques and tastes of the people who make the journey.
Lost Heaven Silk Road
758 Julu Lu (Jing’an station)
+86 6266 9816
open for lunch and dinner daily
lostheaven.com.cn