30 hours and three continents

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was produced by the Winton programme for the public understanding of risk based in the Statistical Laboratory in the University of Cambridge. The aim was to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining.

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Not one of the usual ones that spans decades, this is a series of coincidences that lasted only about 30 hours but spread across three continents... In November 2003 I got on a plane flying from Heathrow to LAX, where I was to catch a separate flight form there to the Pacific island of Samoa. I took my seat and a few moments later another person sat next to me. As the flight was long we struck up a conversation. He had been on a connecting flight from his home town in Germany but his English and my German were half-decent and we bonded over the coincidence that we were both called Tom (slightly different passport names of Thomas and Tomas). As the flight settled in we stopped talking and only picked it up again when we were on the landing path to LAX. He asked where I was going next and we both laughed at the next coincidence, that we were flying on to Samoa on the same flight As we both had to check in again and German Tom's English was not great under the pressure of post 9/11 US airport officials, we went to the flight transit desk together, which also meant we were able to choose to sit together again. (Not a coincidence, just a nice thing). At some point during the flight we chatted about where we were going once we landed. I mentioned a fairly obscure beach hut place on the edge of Apia, Samoa's capital, where you pay what you like. That led to the third coincidence as while he hadn't been to Samoa before he knew exactly where I was talking about as he was staying there too. This led to the final coincidence, as along with there being no fixed costs, the other idiosyncrasy about this place is that the beach huts ('fales') accommodate only two people, and if you're travelling alone you may have to share with a stranger. Except by then he wasn't a stranger at all... There was no other formal connection between us, no package deal, no information provided by the airlines to the accommodation, a relatively small but wide range of accommodation to choose from. The place wasn't listed at that point in Lonely Planet, had a very patchy website and SEO wasn't a thing in Samoa at that point. Additionally, while I was a hard up backpacker so looking at a narrower range of accommodation options, he was a pharmaceutical salesman attracted to the obscurity of the lodge. A side note; we became good friends during our time in Samoa and I was able to stay at his friends' place on Savai'i, Samoa's other island, for free for quite a long time. A great thing for a hard up 23 year old backpacker.
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Date submitted:Tue, 17 Nov 2020 15:37:51 +0000Coincidence ID:10559