Coincidences are a mathematical certainty, I suppose, but they never cease to amaze.

My most mind-boggling coincidence happened to me a few years ago when I was living in Hangzhou. I was on the 3rd or 4th floor of the computer market, browsing computer software and MP3 compilations. Just wondering around, I bumped into my old anthropology professor Dr. Smith, who had taught me 4 years previously in Osaka, Japan.

* * * * *

This morning I went to church, to an English service I hadn’t been to in a while. I ran into a group of friends from my old church in Hangzhou, whom I hadn’t seen since moving away from Hangzhou, 10 months ago. They were in Shanghai for the holiday.

Later that day I accompanied Wayne on some apartment hunting. He was talking about meeting up with a new friend of his. As we were leaving an apartment we had just checked out, we ran into that very friend. She just happened to live in the same complex.

After apartment hunting, we were on our way to meet Micah at a cafe when I heard someone calling my name from across the street. It was ZUCC’s friendliest Japanese teacher, Noriko, in Shanghai for a visit. She just happened to notice me as she wandered the streets.

* * * * *

Saturday I made a trip with some friends to a park on the outskirts of Shanghai. We met up at the “travel bus station” (they’re not tour buses; they’re buses that run specifically to tourist locations). The four of us got in line to buy tickets. Our tickets were going to be 23 rmb each.

When we were near the front of the line, a woman came over offering us a deal on 4 tickets. What a coincidence — the tickets were for our exact destination, and there were four of us. She was offering them for 20 each, a small discount. Although it was tempting, we decided we better not risk getting bad tickets for such a measly savings.

As were were declining the lady’s offer, the ticket seller saw what was going on and asked the woman what she was doing. The woman explained to the ticket seller that she had just bought the tickets but couldn’t use them. The ticket seller told the woman she could get a refund for them, and promptly refunded the tickets, laying the four unused tickets on her desk.

We were up. When we told the ticket seller four tickets for our destination, the seller replied, “here — take these four” and shoved toward us the four tickets we had just declined the discount on. Of course, we paid full price for them.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. John, reread the second sentence of the 8th paragraph. 🙂

  2. Here are my two favorite quotes on coincidence, both from the Illuminatus! Trilogy.

    “The more frequently one uses the word ‘coincidence’ to explain bizarre happenings, the more obvious it becomes that one is not seeking, but evading the real explanation.”

    or shorter:

    “The belief in coincidence is the prevalent superstition of the Age of Science.”

    Don’t be scared to look a coincidence in the eye! You should have bought those tickets right off the bat!

  3. John, is this a prequel to your upcoming NOSTALGIA release for those in the know? – Wilson

  4. Wilson,


  5. Matt,

    If you take your own advice and buy scalped tickets every time they’re offered, I’m sure you’ll have some stories to tell… 🙂

  6. Scalped tickets are great. Jumping on the bus as it rolls out of the station with no ticket is better. Anything else is boring.

  7. argh, maybe you’re right…

  8. haha…
    sometimes it is better to take some risk.

  9. My best was 4or5 yrs ago in Italy. I was on a train making a day trip from one small town to another and a girl passes by my seat and says hello. My initial look must have shown her that I didn’t recognize who she was; so then she says, you know from New Orleans…Mardi Gras.

    That was awkward!

  10. John,

    It’s a good thing you are tall. Maybe this helps out the coincidence factor when locating you in a crowd.


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