Rare Coincidences Are Very Common on the Road

| October 13, 2010 | 34 Comments

rarecoincidence Rare Coincidences Are Very Common on the Road

What are the chances?

In July 1975, newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic reported the death of 17-year-old Erskine Lawrence Ebbin, a young man who had been struck by a taxi while driving a moped in Hamilton, Bermuda. While unfortunate, his death wasn’t terribly notable—except for the fact that the previous year his brother was killed at the same intersection. And he, too, happened to be driving a moped—the same moped.

But mopeds are dangerous vehicles, right? And this was otherwise a terrible coincidence, right? Wrong. That’s not even the half of it. It turns out that it was the same taxi, with the same driver—and carrying the same passenger—that killed his brother Neville the previous year.

Did I just blow your mind? To read about such incredible coincidences is one thing but to experience them is quite another. And while they say that travel makes the world grow smaller, I never realized the truth behind that maxim until I’d experienced this incredible shrinking world myself. And that’s where my story of amazing coincidence begins—in Vietnam, of all places.

I first met Richard over lunch in Vinh Moc. He was an interesting dude, a lone thin braid erupting out of an otherwise bald head. He’d been travelling Vietnam for almost as long as I’d been—and in the space of our lunch, I’d learned a lot about this gregarious Australian student. And our relationship would likely have ended there — except that it didn’t.

You see, Vietnam is notable for having a very well defined tourist trail running between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City owing to what—at the time—was the only highway in the country to connect the two cities. As Richard had set off ahead of me and we were both headed south, it seemed that I’d catch him in every city along the way. We’d bump into each other as I was arriving and he was leaving, which was great for me because he’d offer up his suggestions—over a pint or two—of what to see and do at every destination. This coincidence repeated itself again and again. Hue. Hoi An. Nha Trang. Dalat. Our accidental meetings became so commonplace that they no longer surprised either of us. I’d catch Richard walking down the street, hopping on a bus, waiting at the train station. And let’s face it; he wasn’t terribly difficult to recognize owing to his long thin braid, grizzled visage and red flowing fisherman’s pants. He was easy to pick out from a distance.

The last we saw of each other in Vietnam was in Dalat. I knew that he was travelling on to Bangkok from Ho Chi Minh City—and I was headed back north up the Mekong into Cambodia. We said our goodbyes over an extra pint and that was that.

Except that it wasn’t.

About six weeks later, I found myself on Bangkok’s Khaosan Road, a thriving community that caters to the every need of the backpacker. It was here that I was resting up after six hard weeks travelling through the back country of Laos and Cambodia, taking a break from the rigors of vagabonding before heading off to continue my adventure in India. Walking down the street, I saw Richard in his trademark fisherman’s pants dining by the side of the road.

Amazed by the serendipity, I joined him at his table and he introduced me to his friends—friends he had known from back home in Australia. We got on well—as Australians and Canadians often do—and it wasn’t long before we were well lubricated by several large Chang beers. That’s when Richard’s face froze in disbelief and he muttered: “Holy cripes!”.

It turned out that Richard had recognized yet another person from back home—but one he hadn’t expected to see—his ex-girlfriend’s mother! Before long, she too was seated with us and we were all tilting back Changs.

This is where the world shrinks. In the course of our conversation, I revealed to her that I was most recently employed in Korea—where I had saved enough money as an ESL teacher to travel afterward. “Oh!” she said, “I know someone in Korea!”. Jokingly, I replied, “Who? I probably know them”.

“No!” she replied, “I won’t tell you—it’s too embarrassing”. Intrigued, I resisted the urge to probe further. After several more Chang beers, however, she opened up.

“I met him over the Internet!” she erupted. While we reassured her that her admission was nothing to be embarrassed over, I asked her again, “Who? I bet I know him”.

That’s when she said his name: “Mark. Mark Smith”.

My jaw dropped. I happened to have worked alongside a Mark Smith. “An American?”, I asked.


“From Brooklyn?”

Correct again. What a small world—what were the chances? My mind reeled. An amazing number of coincidences occurred to have finally brought us together over beers in Bangkok. It was incredible.

And the story would have ended there—except that it didn’t.

A year later I returned home from my travels and shortly thereafter met up with the love of my life and fellow blogger, Kathryn. As she was a recent graduate, and owing to the fact that neither of us had any money but were both itching to travel, I returned to Korea—this time with her. The plan was simple: we’d work a year-long contract, squirrel away funds and travel a bit through South East Asia before returning home with enough money for a down payment on a home.

We enjoyed our year in Korea and looked forward increasingly to our time in Thailand. Shortly after our contract was up, we hopped a plane to the islands and settled on Koh Lanta to recuperate from teaching. It was here we met Phil and Jackie—two retired Australians who spent their winters abroad travelling through Asia. Former hippies, both made a killing in Australi a’s 80s real estate boom and were now living off the fruits of their labours and travelling almost full-time.

We spent a week with Phil and Jackie, swapping stories, swimming, hanging out and drinking. Over beers one night, I related the story as it appears here to them, beginning with: “It was a most amazing coincidence”.

I had barely begun—and was relating to them my impression of that erstwhile traveller, his lone braid, the way he dressed, his fisherman’s pant —when Phil stopped me. Lowering his beer from his lips, he said incredulously: “His name wasn’t Richard, was it?”

To read about such incredible coincidences is one thing, but to experience them is quite another. My mind was sent reeling yet again. There we were on Koh Lanta, having beers with Phil and Jackie—Richard’s parents—almost three years since the incredible coincidence had begun to unravel. And here we were—after all that space and time, at the end of this amazing piece of yarn.

And all of it true.

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Category: Dan's Blog

About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.

Comments (34)

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  1. Jen Laceda says:

    Holy cripes! Amazing, amazing!

    Here’s my experience with coincidence: 5 months ago, we were living in the West End of the city and some random guy threw a rock through our car window and broke it. This was at High Park area and the police said it was uncommon there. Now, we’ve moved to the east end of the city, and just a few days ago, some random guy threw a rock through our house window and shattered it (while we were at home). The police was baffled because it didn’t usually happen in our current neighbourhood. 2x in 5 months – what are the chanes? Even our insurance company thinks we have some kind of hex on us! Weird coincidence?? I don’t know…

    • Daniel says:

      Thanks Jen! Kathryn’s family is originally from around there. I love High Park. Such a great neighbourhood. Hope you’re enjoying your new digs in the east. Happy coincidences are better than the negative ones—but all are a little jarring. I guess it’s all just random but we as humans have a natural propensity to try to see a pattern and make connections — just our nature, I guess.

  2. Jenny says:

    Awesome story. It’s definitely a small world. I, too, have found that out traveling.

    • Daniel says:

      And it gets small everyday! What with blogs, Skype, smartphones, etc. The global village is no longer a theory—but a reality!

  3. Shannon OD says:

    That is an absolutely incredible coincidence! Love the flow of the story and the synchronicity of the universe. I backpacked for weeks through Central America with a woman and then found out I had backpacked several years previously through Italy with her brother…but that’s about the extent of my coincidence!

    • Daniel says:

      Thanks for the comment, Shannon. The world’s a big place, but travellers are prone to gravitate to one another — that’s how I explain these things away, anyway.

  4. Jack Norell says:

    Very well told, and quite entertaining. I do feel like I’m left out though, as nothing even remotely close to this has happened to me.

    • Daniel says:

      Hey Jack—thanks for dropping a line! I rarely sit down to write a post and then publish it immediately afterward — but this was one of those times. I re-read it this morning in hopes that it hung together. This was several years ago (2001–4) — but it was no stretch to remember the details. They were still as fresh in my mind as the day we made the realization that we were all connected on Koh Lanta.

  5. Gray says:

    What an awesome story, Daniel! I can’t help but think that “coincidences” like that aren’t coincidences at all, but “universal intention” or fate of some sort.

    • Daniel says:

      Thanks, Gray. Upon re-reading the story, I realized just how far-fetched it all seems. Maybe not a coincidence at all! What’s the universe trying to tell us? :)

  6. Jayne says:

    Hahahaha I absolutely loved this post from start to finish. Great story, superbly told. I must improve my memory skills if I’m ever to have a similar experience :)

    • Daniel says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jayne! The vast amount of beer consumed on that leg of our trip would have otherwise clouded my recollection — but this was such an interesting series of coincidences that it’s stayed fresh in my mind!