Trying to Understand

I’m not one of those folks who gets off bashing everything they don’t understand about Thailand and the Thai people but I had two questions I’ve yet to receive a satisfactory response to. They’re not meant to be insulting. I just really would love if someone could explain this to me.


Thailand has to be the migraine headache capital of the world. Or maybe I just happen to attract people who have a propensity for them. Seriously though, I’ve never met so many people in such a small sample size that complain that they suffer from migraines. And I’m not talking about the run of the mill headache here. I’ve had more Thai women tell me that they’ve been hospitalized for headaches than anywhere else in the world.

According to some websites on migraines I’ve checked out they say that about 16% of all people will experience at least one migraine over the course of their life. Some will have a migraine headache multiple times over their life but most only have one. Based on that, what are the odds that out of say 100 Thai women I know, AT LEAST 10 (probably closer to 12 or 13 but it’s not like I keep stats) have told me they’ve been hospitalized with a migraine headache during the time I’ve known them. Given that I’ve probably known the girls in the sample an average of less than one year, what kind of amazing odds would there have to be that 10% have all had a migraine in that short of a period?

I can already hear some people chuckling saying that maybe it’s an excuse (oh, not tonight honey, I have a headache haha). But why? I mean, if some girl you haven’t spoken to in a month hits you up and you ask how she’s been and she tells you she’s been in the hospital with headaches for 3 days what point was her to make up a story? I have to believe she’s being honest.

I don’t think it’s environmental because I’ve heard it from girls living in Krabi, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, and various parts of Isaan.

Am I just running into some freakish statistical anomaly? Do Thais really do suffer from more headaches than most people? Do they carry more stress around as a result of the whole mai ben rai attitude?

Anybody who can shed some light on this care to comment?

Buddhism and Meditation

Maybe this is related to the above question but I recently started asking every Thai friend I run into whether or not they meditate. So far I’ve received 80% no and 20% seldom. But don’t Buddhism and meditation go hand in hand?

I mean, some of these folks are the type who wai every spirit house, temple, and shrine they pass. Some wear big Buddha amulets for good luck, good health, etc. Many regularly go to temple and make merit.

But they don’t mediate.

I’m not passing judgement. I’m well aware that not every Christian goes to church every Sunday, every Muslim doesn’t abstain from booze, and not every Jew holds off on pork. I’m just curious. Because if you ask a Christian why he doesn’t go to church he can probably articulate his reasons. Same for the Jews and Muslims. But when I ask why Thais don’t meditate I’ve gotten answers ranging from “I’m not a monk,” to simply a blank stare as if the question itself was stupid.

I know that Thais don’t practice the most strict form of Buddhism and have a lot of other influences on their take on the religion but when you think of Buddhism you think of meditation.

I don’t even have any theories on this one. I’m completely clueless. Anybody who can shed some light on this for me gets some karma points from me 🙂

13 thoughts on “Trying to Understand”

  1. In answer to your wondering about the frequency & severity of migraine headaches in Thailand, I have never been there, but I understand they have an extremely high level of air pollution & very few environmental regulations that are adhered to, or enforced. I suspect there are high levels of some sort of pollutant that causes vasoconstriction of blood vessels,less blood flow to the brain with rebound cerebral edema (swelling) hence the headaches…I would be very curious about the # of heart attacks they have & their subsequent mortality rate, also r/t the vasoconstriction…Not to mention cancer rate.

  2. Dear Anon,
    Regarding meditation. We in the west associate Buddhism with meditation because most Western Buddhists meditate. That is because they got taught about Buddhism from Japanese Zen monks. Meditation is especially intrinsic to the practice of Zen Buddhism. However, in most asian countries, lay practitioners, of any form of Buddhism, do not meditate regularly, only the monks do.

    The situation can be compared to Catholic monks. They get up every morning at o’dark :30 to pray. However, none of the laity of the church do, nor join them for the rest of their prayers throughout the day. But if the Catholic monks went and spread their faith to those that don’t know any better, maybe the new convert would think that s/he needed to get up at the crack of dawn and pray too. I’m sure a Catholic monk would react the same as a Zen Buddhist monk did back in the day: be happy that your convert is so devoted to their new spiritual practice that they want to practice with a similar diligence as you (the monk).

    The Westerners who were introduced to Buddhism in the 60s (or so) by Buddhist monks just copied what the monks did – meditate, not realizing that that is not the way it was practiced “back home.” Most Buddhist lay-practioners only come to a temple for the same reasons Westerners go to churches: weddings, funerals and spiritual celebrations/holidays. Though most Thai men (used to) go through a short period of being a monk, they don’t continue their meditation practice after leaving the priesthood. Though they may pray daily at their home shrine and when they visit the wat, regular religious practice does not include meditation of any length of time.

    FYI – Western Zen Buddhists still cling very tightly to the ways of traditional Japanese Zen Buddhism, with Dharma transmission, using Japanese words for everything and everyone – the whole roll. I always found it a bit of “the finger pointing at the moon” myself. (Zen koan/proverb allusion you can research and enjoy).

    I hope the above does not ramble too much and sheds some light, or enlightenment, as it were.

    Great explanation. Very comprehensive.
    There is no higher rate here than anywhere else of headaches (migraines). How good is your Thai? I ask because it may be a transliteration problem (very common) or perhaps they are looking for pity. As a generalization Thai’s love people to feel sorry for them.

  4. Good answer for the meditation question, but I’ll expand on it a little.

    According to Buddhism, meditation is the practice by which an individual can achieve “enlightenment”. It is not a “duty” like praying is for Christians and Moslems, rather it is a form of self-develpment that will ultimately lead to liberation. However, most Thai lay Buddhists do not beleive that they will acheive enlightenement in their current lifetime, because it is a difficult path requiring a lifetime of devotion. Therefore, Thai lay Buddhists “make merit” (donate food to monks, give charity, etc) so that they will accumulate good karma and be reborn in a higher state. Maybe in some future life, it is beleived, they will become a monk and devote themselves to meditation.

  5. Well there is a lot of pollution in Bangkok. It is also a contributing factor to why Thai students have such a low IQ (only 88 average), I’m sure.

    That said, Thai girls have the emotional maturity of the average farang 14 year old up until the age of about 40 at least. They are pretty much exploding with bullshit too as to why they can’t do something or a reason to feel sorry for them. I just ignore it and reward the non-whinny liars.

  6. @DM

    Nice expansion with regard to the Thai side. Very much as I have been able to learn/understand about the situation.

  7. If the headaches are environmentally caused, I would think some farangs living in BKK would also have them?

    I know a couple of well off thai men who told me they meditated once or twice in their lives where they went to a special temple and spent three days meditating. One of them told me the first day was the most difficult, and some of his friends left the temple. He said it was very enlightining to him…I am not sure if this is th kind of meditation that you are asking about thu..

  8. @mando: My thoughts exactly. Also the OP says specifically that it’s not just Bangkok girls. Why would some girl in Koh Samui be getting environmentally caused headaches?

  9. @Hannah: Here we go again. Another farang woman who comes on and her first few comments try to present herself as a very reasonable person. With each additional comment more and more of her racism starts to appear. You’re not going to be another Trudy are you?

  10. to the OP, for Christs ‘sake it’s an excuse and a reason to get money, ok hope not. No. I’m just thinking who pays the hospital. hehehe!

    I have migraine myself and I’m not Thai. I even get my head banged on the wall due to the intense pain but goodness gracious getting myself hospitalized is out of the context! (ok, the banging is an exagerration just wana highlight the pain) For years I took Exceedrin until I finally gave up as the pain gets intense. I’m now taking ASPIRIN or TYLENOL when my migraine attacks.

    Migraine has several causes, could be too much sunlight, diet (some food, cheese..etc) and even PMS.

    I suggest you may better read on the causes as I heard taking “diet pills” and many other beauty enhancing medicines” could also contribute migraines.

    On the other hand, we can’t confirm if one is having it and I disagree that CULTURE has something to do with headache , if you can check other articles here, especially the COMMON SENSE thing bet, you can sense what I mean.

  11. hmmm cant edit…

    I mean…

    “who pays the bills”

    ok …now im starting to have a headache and may cause the readers as well LOLOL!

  12. hannah
    this posting shows your ignorance arrogance and colonialistic thailand libre sin pendejas que tu!

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