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 t