Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

The Famous Chocolate Story

on November 23, 2013


My permed look in 1964. This is the reject I got after my mother cut pictures for her albums and scrapbooks. Little did we know that these scraps would become our few remaining mementos.

My permed look in 1964. This is the reject I got after my mother cut pictures for her albums and scrapbooks. Little did we know that these scraps would become our few remaining mementos.

Since this story has reached my year in Turkey, I must tell that famous Chocolate Story that all my siblings, children, children-in-law, and all relatives and friends know so well. I have even told this story to many of my students. There isn’t really much to the story except what I learned from it.

In Ankara then, in 1964, we ordered goodies from a Danish catalog. I’m not sure what else Mama ordered, but what we really loved were those chocolate bars! There was an entire carton of them! I swear my parents never actually in so many words forbade us to eat them. They simply stored them out of our reach, and would occasionally give us some as rewards or treats.

Children: before the age of walk-in closets, we had real closets, large pieces of furniture for hanging clothes, with doors. These were called armoires (in French), or wardrobes (in English).


So the precious carton of chocolate bars sat on top of Mama’s wardrobe.

One Sunday morning, Papa and Mama went off somewhere. They never told us where they went. We just took it for granted that they regularly went to all kinds of functions; this was part of the life of diplomats’ children. The three of us, Saadia, 8, me, 7 and my little brother Ferdinand/ Abdul Kerim, 3 stayed in our room and played Lego on the floor. The hours ticked by, and we got tired. And hungry. And tired. And hungry. I looked at the two of them and asked, “Would you like to eat some chocolate?”

Their eyes were round and their mouths agape. “But… how are you going to get it?” asked Saadia. My brother was yet too young to participate actively in really important discussions such as this one. Obviously, she shared my opinion that we had never really been forbidden to eat it on our own. Only that they were out of our reach.

I had studied this problem often, theoretically. So, I led them to Mama’s bedroom and demonstrated it. “See, just like this!” I climbed on Ferdinand’s bed with my left foot, stepped then on the door handle with the right foot, held on to the top of the wardrobe with both hands, pulled myself up by swinging my left foot into the air, threw my left hand into the carton, grabbed the first bar I found, then jumped backwards onto my parents’ bed quickly before I lost balance.

I waved the bar triumphantly in the air! We ran back to our room, tore open the bar and broke those little squares up. We devoured them lustily, licked our fingers with gusto! What a great treat this was!

Being still young, we forgot to wash our hands and our mouths, leaving tell-tale dark spots everywhere.

This particular outing was really getting too long! Where were our parents? Finally we heard the key turn in the front door. Relieved and happy, we jumped up and all ran as fast as we could to meet them. “Papa! Mama!” we tried to hop up to their necks and embrace them as we usually did, but Papa seemed in a really foul mood!

He barely returned our hugs, then took one look at our brown-smudged faces and hands. “You STOLE and ate chocolate! ” he thundered.

Now, if a loving dad suddenly turns into Zeus and roars into your face, your normal reaction is to stutter, “No… No… No…” I don’t think I was really trying to say I did not eat chocolate. I was only trying to deny this suddenly very frightening situation. But Papa thought otherwise.

“What! Not only you know how to steal, you also know how to LIE!!! What has this household come to! These children need some discipline!”

If you are not Chinese, you do not know how we are disciplined. You need to line up, facing the authority, our patriarch, and kneel down. Papa looked around, and finally found a stainless shoe horn, with a long handle. He tried slapping it into his palm. Worked.

shoe horn

He came to us, ready for the session. My brother was forgiven for being too young. He probably was led to err by his evil sisters. Off he went to the kitchen for a bowl of noodles. Papa took my right hand in his. He swung the shoe horn in the air. “Now, tell me again, did you or did you not steal and eat chocolate, then lie about it?”

No way. I certainly was not evil. I certainly committed no crime. I would not admit to it. I looked at the shoe horn, and thought, “Well, how hurtful can this be? ” So I looked Papa in the eye, and replied, “No.”

“Is that how it is? OK, you asked for it.” The shoe horn slapped into my right palm. It burned so much tears just shot out of my eyes all by themselves. I certainly did not will them to. I kept my mouth shut and refused to cry out.

Papa now moved to Saadia. He held her right palm. “Did you or did you not steal and eat chocolate?” Da Jie looked at me. I wasn’t crying. At least not outwardly. It must be OK. So she looked Papa in the eye and replied, “No.” Swish! Slam! The shoe horn slapped into her palm. She screamed and collapsed onto the carpet, “I did! I did! I did! Wah…. Wah…” she sobbed uncontrollably.

Papa threw down his weapon and immediately gathered her in his arms. “That’s OK, that’s OK, Darling! Since you admitted it, it’s OK. Does it hurt?” Now, he was massaging her palm, and blowing on it. “We were just baffled, Dear, we didn’t know how you could possibly reach them. How did you?”  Wailing and crying, Saadia pointed an accusing finger at me, “It’s her! she got it!” Papa hugged and comforted her, then off she went to the kitchen to have a bowl of noodles.

Well, you know what, this is the last time I’m sharing chocolate with you!  How could you! Traitor! Coward!

Papa turned back to me. “Well, Da Jie has already confessed, so you may as well do so too. So, did you or did you not steal and eat chocolate?” I have no idea really what got into me. But I looked him straight in the eye and firmly stated, “No, I did not.” That really incensed Papa. “What? Do you intend to foment a rebellion?” Whack! whack! the shoe horn slapped my palms, right, left, right, left, so much that now I could not feel the pain anymore. Every two slaps, Papa would reiterate his question, “Did you STEAL and eat chocolate?” and now in a broken voice I would repeat, “No!!!! No!!!” The tears were behaving in a silly manner, not listening to my will, just pouring like a torrent. At least, my voice listened to me and I refused to groan, moan or whimper.

Papa was now tired. He was red in the face, and he had rolled up his shirt sleeves. He tried using psychological warfare in between more shoe horn slapping. “You are nothing but a liar and a thief. You will grow up to become a threat to and the scourge of society. How could I as a father allow such a thing? The best thing to do right now is to withdraw you from school. I will go tomorrow to your school and declare in front of your whole class that you are a liar and a thief…”  Now he didn’t know but I very nearly broke down at this point. I finally had been able to integrate myself into a classroom. My classmates did not isolate me and mock me. But if Papa did that, it was horrible. It would be worse than in Paris. Everyone would be horrified at my character.

Fortunately, Mama came in at this point. She told me later, after I grew up, that the two of them had an understanding. Whoever disciplined the children, the other was not to interfere. But she probably could not go on witnessing such a scene much longer. So she walked up to Papa and said, “Your noodles are getting cold. Why don’t you go and eat them first. You can always continue beating her afterwards.”

Mama was always the real diplomat in the family.

So Papa stormed off to the kitchen to eat his noodles. Mama knelt down and hugged me. I simply broke down and cried my heart out. She soothed me, and asked, “Since you ate the chocolate, just say you ate them. You ate them, didn’t you?”

See, the difference was that she asked whether I ate them. That was never the problem. The word I did not agree with was STEALING. So, in between sobs, I said, “Of course, I did.”  Mama pulled me up and said, “We couldn’t figure out how you got the chocolate. How did you?” So I led her to her bedroom. “Just like this!” and I re-enacted the little monkey climb, the left hand thrown into the carton, a grab, and backward hop and here you go! Another bar of chocolate!

Mama washed my face then led me to my bowl of noodles, rather cold by then.  She told Papa, “she confessed and showed me how she got them. Let her eat now.” Papa was only too happy to be relieved of his dilemma.

bowl of noodles

And the moral of the story is…

I really don’t know. As a parent and an educator, I have learned that you should never embark on a full-front confrontation. This only leads to a battle of willpower and a struggle for each side to retain some self-worth.

As a child, I learned what a lie was. And that lesson was so well learned that for many years afterwards, I would rather face a tsunami than lie. Because of my pathological insistence on telling the truth, years later, I was kicked out of medical school (I was able to get back in). But the full story is yet ahead.





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