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Book details early life of long-time Yorkton restaurant owner

Carl Mark pens book on his father Bob Mark

What started out as a project to write down family history for a former Yorktonite turned into a book detailing his father Lai Mark - better known locally as Bob Mark.

"The book started as a project to merely write down all of the stories that I used to sit with my sister and my brothers listening to my dad tell on long summer evenings on the patio," said Carl Mark who was born in Alberta but moved to Yorkton in 1965 at age five. "It was a bonding time for us to enjoy summertime beers with dad and he had so many stories that were just so interesting to listen to.

"As I started to write the individual stories, it occurred to me that there was a chronology that could be applied whereby connecting the chronological dots actually told the story of dad’s youth."

Asked to tell a bit about the story, Mark, who attended a trio of local elementary schools before graduating from Yorkton Regional Hicalgarygh School in 1978, said the book follows the early life of his father whose Chinese name is Lai Foo Mark (or in proper Chinese with surname first it is Mark Lai Foo) and his Canadian name was Bob Mark.

Bob Mark (Lai) was the owner/proprietor of the Broadway Restaurant in Yorkton from 1965 to 1980 and then owner/proprietor of the Bob Mark Chop Suey House from 1980 to 1992.

"Lai is a typical farm kid who is selected by the then Nationalist Koumintang regime under the government of Chang Kai Shek as the “best of the best” profiling," began Carl Mark. "China’s culture beginning at the central government level was elitist and Lai fit that persona both physically and intellectually.

"These elite boys and only boys meaning no girls -- cultural discrimination based on gender -- were offered the 'golden opportunity' that would guarantee the fortunes for the rest of their lives and their family’s lives.

"In the entire history of Lai’s village, no boy had ever been bestowed this honour and it would behoove Lai to turn it down. This level of pressure placed on a 13-year-old peasant farm boy led to remarkable stories of his experiences as he comes of age."

In the end the book deals with societal realities including: cultural biases, economic discrimination, bullying, drug addiction, mental illness, and high consequence discriminatory practices of the then government of Canada with the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act that caused many hardships ultimately destroying Lai’s father.

Of course all families have stories, so why did Mark think the book was worth writing?

"I dedicated the book to my daughters, Tessa and Taryn and to my mom, Sally," said Mark, who now lives in Whistler, B.C.. "This book was worth writing so that my daughters and some day their children will have an understanding and appreciation of who their grampa was bestowed in all of his greatness. I don’t know if families have only one such person in their ancestry but when he is identified, all the current and next generations must know his details as it helps to explain the what and why’s of the now generations and future generations."

But Mark was not exactly a writer going into the project, having worked exclusively in the field of high tech.

"In my High Tech industry and executive management experience and training I have written, published and presented business plans, sales and marketing strategies and product overview briefings to thousands of people at a time during live presentations back in the day when those things were the norm pre-covid," he noted, so he was not a complete neophyte in putting words on paper.

But there were some initial hiccups too for what was a first book effort.

"I started to write this book as a narrative like it was me telling this story to my daughters," said Mark. "It sounded too much like a business proposal so I reached out to my good friend J.J. Martin who authored the fiction book in 2019 to mentor me on how to write in 'first person' through the eyes of a book character. J.J.Martin wrote his book through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy through to manhood in his twenties which was exactly what I wanted to do depicting my dad’s story through his eyes from age 13 to 21. I had to tell the story using dialogue between my dad and whomever he was with at that time that it happened."

So how did the book flow once Mark was fully into writing it?

"Ah now this was the fun part," he said. "As the saying goes, 'It happens' (this expression needing two more letters).

"My business venture was shut down due to COVID. I wanted and needed an intellectually stimulating project. I inherited the 'adventurous and entrepreneurial' genes from my dad.

"Also I saw that my mom was still very much grieving his passing so I needed to do this to help with my own dealing with my dad’s passing, but also as a distraction for conversations with my mom as I have never so intently asked her questions about her and dad’s lives before. It helped her with her grieving and it certainly helped me to let him go.

"Recognizing that his greatness needed to be celebrated by recording it not just talking about it nor going through the motions.

"Plus I needed something to do."

So Mark went at it head-on.

"Never one to back down from a challenge, I decided that no one would want to read my narrative of the stories again due to sounding like I was writing a business proposal," he said, reiteration "I thought wouldn’t it be great to do what J.J. Martin did and tell the stories through my dad’s actual dialogue from a first person stand point?

"This challenge meant I reconnected with J.J. Martin and he mentored me with his best practices. Then my mind shift had to take place and my sister was my sounding board. So many of the stories when I read them to her, she would say 'that is a good story but it was nothing like that!' so back to my lonely writer’s quarters dejected and jilted and starting over yet again.

"This went on and on for all of the chapters of the book until I got it right. So that is for the stories about my dad which was challenging enough.

"The next challenge was I had to research actual history of China and history of Chinese immigration to Canada.

"Again due mainly to the fact that my friends and family who will be the readers are very well read, intelligent and educated people. I would not be able to BS my way through any part of history so I had to research every occurrence in every geography to be certain that I described it with accuracy as many of the readers will fact check me."

Along the way Mark learned more about his father too, terming that the best aspect of the book.

"For me it is the constant learning that was my dad. His values, morals and beliefs," he offered.

"For the reader it will be the adventure that ties all of these things together into an action novel."

And as a first-time author Mark is satisfied with the overall story he created.

"Yes overall I am satisfied although I do believe that perhaps there is more to tell." he said. "That is why perhaps his life as an entrepreneur in Hanna, Alberta and then Yorkton, together with his having his family must also be told.

"Many readers have already reached out to me saying 'arg!! I want more!'

"Talk about a humbling experience to have a friend say that to you."

Life of Lai is available to purchase on Amazon.