Yuen Keung (Eddy) Lee

I came from Singapore in 1972 as a newly qualified dentist and began work as an NHS Dentist in Dalston, East London.

I was 23 and when this opportunity for me to travel came up, I took it with both hands. There weren’t any dental jobs in Singapore, especially for a new grad without the financial backing to start their own practice. I heard of quite a lot of my friends who’d come over and they were telling me that is easy to find an NHS dental job. So that was my main motivation: travel and work.

There was a recruiting drive from the NHS, from overseas countries – it was quite a good deal that they offered: you were almost guaranteed a job. On top of that, we were given permanent residence with an indefinite leave to remain. Even though I had no intention staying indefinitely, that was part of my reason for coming.

I was quite excited for the journey. To be honest, my education was quite Western and bearing that in mind, I wasn't really nervous. I also thought that I would be here for three, maybe four years. A lot of my classmates were already here and had been for six months, so they were going to pick me up from the airport. They also already had a house share in Leytonstone and they even had jobs lined up for me. So no, I wasn't nervous.

I knew that my mother wasn’t very keen on me coming over. My dad recognised that I wanted to travel, so that was fine. But I thought I was going to come over for just a few years, work, get some money saved, but also apply for a postgraduate qualification which would help me when I returned to Singapore to look for a job. So – even though it didn’t happen – there was the idea that I would be back: I suppose that was a comfort.

Even though it was June when I arrived in the UK, it was freezing! I was wearing a suit, and I don’t think I had that many clothes, or warm clothes anyway. I was fortunate enough to already have a group of friends, mostly from Singapore, so we stayed amongst ourselves quite a bit: we didn’t actually have to go out and meet people. It’s only through work that we came in contact with local people, and when some of the friend group began to build their own families, us singletons started mixing socially with others!

While my background is Chinese, my education in Singapore was quite westernised, so I didn’t really feel a culture shock when I arrived. I felt accepted quite easily and I can count on one hand the incidents that I thought were racist, over the course of my thirty to forty years of being here. For me, it was easy to integrate.

I’m still very close to my family back home and I communicate with them a lot. I try and go back every couple of years to keep in contact, and they come over to visit me as well. I was never really homesick as I was certain I would go back one day. Apart from people, the main thing I missed is the food! We used to go down to Soho quite a lot, where we could get Chinese food, but it was definitely a trek!

I met a girl two years after I got here and we got married in 1976. I couldn't exactly just transport both of us back home to Singapore and make her leave her family. So that's why I ended up staying here and starting a family in this country.

I feel like I have two homes: Singapore is the home where I grew up and England is the home where I got married, started a family and put down roots. So both of them are home, but in a different way.

I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m proud of the journey, rather just glad I undertook it. I’ve settled in well, and that’s where I am now. I became a Christian about 25 years ago and since I retired after 37 years with the NHS, I’ve been very active in my church and its activities, which I have found very gratifying and enjoyable.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who have stayed good friends. I’ve also got my children and grandchildren. I feel fortunate to have the circle of people that I do, but I don’t know if ‘legacy’ would be the right word. When you say ‘legacy’, you almost look back and think, ‘What have I left?’ So I guess it’s just about whether I made an impression on anybody, whether it’s friends or family, and that’s that’s the legacy that I would like to say that I’ve left behind.

I most enjoyed treating and having rapport with patients, to the extent that I had some patients who were with me for about twenty or thirty years, and I saw them and their children as well.

I would say that I’m glad I came. I’m glad I’ve settled down here and I’m happy. And I was happy working for the NHS as well. I sometimes think that there are some things I could have done better, but I have no regrets.

I don’t think I would move to Singapore now I’m retired. Despite the fact that I’m ethnically Chinese and grew up there, I feel more of a foreigner there than I do here. That would be my final reflection on this journey: I’ve settled here and happily so. This is my home.

This story is part of Ingat-Ingat (, an exhibition curated by Becky Hoh-Hale about Southeast Asians who came to work for the NHS between 1959-1979.