Arthur was born at Penal Rock Road. My father came from China, my mother [also of Chinese descent] came from Guyana. My father was a Buddhist but did not practise, my mother was Anglican and she didn't drink out of the same cup as others. They spoke Cantonese and ran a shop in Penal that sold everything including liquor…we had a rum shop attached.
"Ganja was sold [in shops]. It was lawful and the only people who used it were Indians." Many Chinese immigrants opened stores and moved place to place following the oil fields. The store ran by Arthur’s parents catered for 10 people.
Moving from Penal to Port of Spain:I was the youngest of eight children: five boys and three girls. When I was a baby, I went to live with my eldest sister in Port of Spain. My mother appreciated education and sent everyone to school. I went to Columbus primary school on Nelson Street at age four… there were very little East Indian children.
Arthur was raised by his eldest sister who was also looking after her other siblings while she worked. "We lived at 25 Queen Street in a poor area and walked to Columbus school." When asked what his sister would make to eat he said he could not recall but "I remember eating a lot of rice, everything was with rice."
Six-teen dollars a term was the tuition at St Mary’s College, (the average monthly wage was forty dollars). "I went to St Mary's College in 1930, there were about 200 students at the time and classes were taught by Holy Ghost fathers only. I boarded at Pantin's Bakery while at St Mary's. After CIC, I studied math in Ireland during WWII."
In 1939, he attended university in Dublin, Ireland. Arthur completed a BSc and an MSc in Mathematics. Studying in Ireland and then Switzerland during WWII seemed to have had little effect on this scholar’s ambitions and achievements. Receiving many awards for his work in mathematics and hailed as one of the brightest minds in that field, he remains humble and unceremonious about much of it.
Arthur Lai Fook returned to Trinidad in 1947 to teach mathematics at CIC and for decades he remained the most iconic of the teachers at that school.