Looking back at ’08 – 5 things no longer with us

We lost quite a bit in 2008. Several old banks are gone, the value of your house is probably gone, and in the world of travel several things disappeared for good as well.

I’ve listed 5 things no longer with us as we head into the new year. Come back in a few days to read my list of 5 things we gained in 2008, and keep your fingers crossed that things pick up a bit in 2009!

Aloha Airlines

In 2008, almost 80 airlines went bankrupt. I’m sure most of you were not too upset when Swazi Express Airways stopped flying, but one of the more popular airlines we lost was Aloha Airlines.

Aloha had been flying between the islands and the mainland since 1946, but 2008 would become their final year. As usual, rising fuel costs were cited as one of the main reasons they could not survive.

Another, probably more important reason for their demise, was an intense price war that broke out between Aloha and GO!. GO! started offering inter island flights to local residents for as little as $15.

In an ironic twist of events, the very airline that contributed to the collapse of Aloha has managed to purchase their name and will be renaming themselves “Aloha” next year.

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Skybus Airlines

Airlines come, and airlines go. But seldom does this happen as fast as with Skybus. Skybus started operating out of Columbus, Ohio in May of 2007, and by April of 2008 it was grounded. The airline had set itself up like many European carriers, with flights to smaller secondary airports, a flexible pricing system and even forced people to dispose of all food and beverages before boarding the plane.

Once on board, food, beverages, snacks and pillows were sold, and 10% of the revenue became salary for the flight attendants.

The concept obviously looked good on paper, but their timing was horrible, and passengers did not care for the total lack of service. Skybus never published a phone number, and all communications with the airline had to be made through email.

In the end, their business model clashed with rising fuel prices, and the airline went under, stranding 1000′s of people at various airports around the country.

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Free baggage allowance

Of all the perks the airlines took away from us in recent years, this is the one that is bound to hurt the most. I survived the removal of pretzels, I managed to deal with a 4 hour flight without a pillow, but forcing people to pay for their checked luggage is just cruel.

Of course, the natural effect this is having on passengers and their bags, is that people are now carrying more than ever on board the plane. The airlines still have a tad of compassion left, as their elite travelers are currently exempt from these new money making measures.

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Berlin Tempelhof Airport

I’m sure more airports closed in 2008, but none of them were as important to aviation history as Berlin Tempelhof. The airport closed on October 30th, and will make way for a single Berlin Airport which is scheduled to open in 2011.

Tempelhof played a very important role in German aviation history, and was the home of Lufthansa for many years. Of course, the war transformed the airport, and the massive terminal building at Tempelhof was one of many buildings Hitler commissioned for the city. After the war, Tempelhof played a pivotal role in supplying food and other supplies during the Berlin Airlift.

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The 2008 Chinese Olympics

The buildup to the Chinese Olympics was filled with scandals, anticipation and a lot of worrying.

In the end, the games went pretty much like clockwork. It’s always a little sad when such a long wait for something is over in just 2 weeks. The Chinese put on one heck of a show, in some of the most impressive sporting venues the world has ever seen.

Like with most Olympic events, before the games start, there is always a ton of bad news, rumors about incomplete facilities and some corruption scandals, but he Chinese managed to prove everyone wrong, and gave the world a great show as well as a nice view into their culture.

The Olympics finale: A great big Beijing inspired hugfest and might

Hugs all around. If you’re near someone give him or her a hug. If you’re by yourself, just wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze. MMMMmmmm.

By the end of the closing ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, when the credits rolled in the U.S.’s broadcast version, I was once more feeling warm and fuzzy, just like I did at the end of the opening of the games. Again, I’m a real Pollyanna sometimes.

The shots of athletes hugging each other, even if they were not on the same team, (like this photo posted on AOL) or with their hands thrown upwards in triumph–or in tears–either from joy or abject disappointment, revved up emotions–at least mine. As one of the commentators said during the closing, the games do give a sense that there is hope. Yes, we can all get along. The hugs seem to prove it.

Hugs, if you noticed, were given out by EVERYBODY–it didn’t matter the nationality of the hugger or hugee, whether it was for a feeling of triumph or in comfort. If not a hug, at least a pat on the back or a rub on the shoulders was offered and accepted.

While I watched the closing, I also thought about how the performance arts of a country can reflect the cultural values of the people who live there and influence the emphasis on how the art is used.

Once again, China demonstrated the inspiration and sense of wonder that happens when people work together. The Memory Tower, the 5-story metal sculpture that scads of dancers performed on and around just like a swarm of precision bees, replicate the look of the Olympic flame and other visual wonders. Surely this was a great showing of the umph and creativity of China’s people. Get people in China organized, and there’s nothing they can’t do.

The cultural value of such performances seems to be precision and working closely together. Each performer’s moves tied to the other performers, although the performances around the sculpture, like the pop culture singers and the rock music drummers, also showed an openness to change. Women dressed in western style clothes while playing traditional Chinese instruments is an example of what I mean.

The British, from my observations, reflect something else. Britain emphasized the individuality and diversity of the people who are British citizens. The dancers around the double-decker bus were of different backgrounds. I noticed both black and white people straight off. Also, instead of the precision of the Chinese performers, the British performers took a more modern dance angle. Dancers each did their own movements, not in sync with each other, but in relationship to each other.

The result was interesting, but not fluid. The British offering was clever, like when the bus turned into the London skyline, but it looked like it was designed to illustrate what represents Britain, like soccer (football) and Mary Poppins, (the umbrellas made me think of Burt, Mary and the chimney sweeps) , more than show off Britain’s might. Although, the precision performances of the Chinese must be easier to capture on camera. The shots of the British performances were from a variety of angles and only a few dancers were captured in any particular frame. I kept thinking that seeing it live would have had a much different impact.

Britain showed off its might the most during the shots of London where Micheal Phelps was introduced to the cheering crowd there. The finale of this clip was when precision fighter planes streamed across the sky in a V-formation leaving a trail of red, white and blue smoke. People may dance to their own beat, but airplanes are synchronized. (Of course, go to Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guards and you’ll see precision.)

If the Olympics does give the host country a chance to show off its finest, I’m hoping that Monty Python and other British humor gets worked into the summer games’ broadcast in 2012.

As for the broadcasts over the last two weeks, I’ll miss the trips to China through my television screen and think that I want to go back there soon. Until then, there’s the Travel Channel, books, the Chinese grocery stores I go to from time to time, and my Chinese friends to tide me over. Fireworks will never look as good though. The Chinese know their fireworks. They invented them and have certainly perfected the art over the years.

And for the next two years, until the hugfest at the Olympics’ winter games in Canada begins, give people hugs or a comforting, or congratulatory pat on the back whenever you can. From the looks of what’s on TV, they work wonders.

For an analysis of the impact on the Olympics in Beijing, check out Time magazine’s article, “The Lessons of the Beijing Olympics.”

By the way, I am aware that the polo team guys are not actually hugging each other, but are competing. Do you know how hard it is to find an image to use of people hugging at the Olympics, even though they did it constantly?

A Look Ahead at London 2012

The closing ceremonies of Beijing ’08 were not quite as spectacular as the opening ceremonies. Not quite, but almost. There were still plenty of people wearing LED lights, drummers and acrobats climbing tall structures.

London got a chance to do their “we’re hosting the next Olympics” skit. It sucked in comparison to the other performances of the evening. There was some guy who looked like an gray-haired Jimmy Page. (It was obvious that the Stones said no to the gig). And Beckham kicked a ball off the top of a bus that had magically converted into some sort of green lump.

While they shake off their Olympic withdrawals, some people are passing the time by guessing what the opening ceremonies are going to look like in ’12. Here are some of the ideas:

1. They will hire the cast and crew of the Beijing opening ceremonies and perform the exact same show.

2. They will tap a different film director, like Ridley Scott or Madonna’s husband, and offer an unlimited budget to create a series of whimsical dance numbers featuring soccer hooligans and those guards with the furry hats.

3. Beckham will be, under order of the queen, part of the ceremony. Fine, as long as he doesn’t have to say anything in that high-pitched cockney voice or take his shirt off.

Whatever they come up with, it’s going to be great. Unfortunately, fans will have to wait until 2011 to get their hands on some of the 7.7 million tickets up for sale.

The Birds Nest 360

I’ve seen a lot of photos of this years Beijing Olympics, but none of them impressed me as much as this massive panoramic photo made by Finnish photographer Kari Kuukka.

You’ll need to be patient when the photo loads, on my fast connection it still took almost a minute. Once the counter reaches 100%, use your mouse to drag the picture around, for a 360 degree image of the men’s 100 meter finals.

If you see something in the image you’d like to get a closer look at, use your SHIFT and CTRL buttons to zoom in or out. If you turn the image around, you’ll get up close and personal with some comedic photo journalists making funny faces, and if you look “down”, you’ll see the dome of the panoramic camera used to make this amazing photo.

(Image source: Kari Kuukka)

Olympics inspired gift idea. Children’s art is a big hit

When Meredith Vieria from the Today Show was given a tour of the Olympic Village, specifically the housing of the Americans, trap shooter bronze medalist Corey Cogdell showed Vieria a painting in her room that was created by a child in China.

A framed picture of a child’s artwork was given to each Olympic athlete as a room decoration. It’s theirs to keep whether they medal or not.

Vieira was quite moved by the gesture of a child-produced gift. I thought about the excitement that the children must have felt when they were making their paintings knowing their creations would be going to athletes from around the world and how they were contributing to their country’s mega, unforgetable, international event.

It can make a heart feel warm and fuzzy for sure.

Seeing the painting reminded me of the items to buy when traveling that offer more meaning than a production piece souvenir. Any work made by a child has been favorably received whenever I have given them as gifts.

I once bought three drawings by children that were sold in a fundraiser art show for a refugee center that houses families in India who were displaced by strife. I have forgotten the specifics of who received the funding, but I I can see the art clearly. I was touched by its hope and sweetness. The show was at the India International Center in New Delhi, a place that hosts high quality events, mostly centered on the arts. This is where I saw the writer Pico Iyer at a symposium of Indian authors who write in English.

Granted, framed paintings are cumbersome. Another option is handmade greeting cards that can be framed once you get home. Often these cards are used to make money for organizations that are searching for dollars.

Keep your eyes open. Thailand, Vietnam and India are wonderful places to look for such items. I still have cards I bought to give away. Even if the cards aren’t made by kids, or go to charity. handmade cards are helping to support someone.