Yuen Keung (Eddy) Lee

Yuen Keung (Eddy) Lee came from Singapore in 1972 as a newly qualified dentist and began work as an NHS Dentist in Dalston, East London. He worked as an NHS Dentist until he retired 37 years later. He lives in Essex, with his wife and has two children and four grandchildren.

His story is told by his son Darren Swee Kong Lee.



What was your motivation for coming?

I came when I was 23, and this opportunity for me to travel came up and there wasn't any dental jobs in Singapore, for a new grad without the financial backing to start your own practice. I heard of quite a lot of my friends who'd come over and they are 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. Almost guaranteed a job. On top of that, we were given permanent residence with an indefinite leave to remain, no time limit you can stay. Even though I had no intention to stay indefinitely, that was part of it.

And how did you feel? Nervous in any way?

Quite excited. To be honest, my education was quite Western. Knowing that and that I'm going to just be here for three, four years, I wasn't really nervous, more excited I should say. I had a lot of my classmates already here for about six months. So they were gonna pick me up from the airport and, and they got accommodation, a house share in Leytonstone and they even had jobs lined up for me. So no, I wasn't nervous.

How did the family feel towards you coming to the UK?

I knew that my mother wasn't very keen. My dad recognized that I want to travel so that was fine. But I thought I was going to come over, maybe three, maybe four years, work, get some money saved, but also to go for some postgraduate qualification which will help me when I go back to Singapore to look for a job. So - even though it didn't happen - that there was the idea I would be back, I suppose that was a comfort.

First impressions?

The weather! Even though it was June it was freezing, I don't think I had much clothes, or warm clothes anyway - well, I had a suit on! So the first thing was the cold. After that, we had a group of friends, so we actually just mixed around socially with my group of friends. So I didn't actually have to go out and meet people; apart from work, that was when we came in contact with the local people. But mainly we'd stay in together, a community of us, and most of us were from Singapore. It was only after some of them started a family and then we find ourselves as single ones, you know, then we'd start mixing socially with other people!

Was it much of a culture shock? And integration issues?

Singapore is quite westernized. Okay, my background is a Chinese, but my education in Singapore was quite westernised, so it wasn't much of a culture shock.

I felt generally accepted quite easily. I can count on one hand, the incidents that I thought were racist, after 30/40 years being here. For me it was easy to integrate.

What values have you held on to from home?

Family. I'm still very close to my family back home. And I communicate with them a lot. And I try and go back every couple of years to keep in contact, and they come over to visit me as well.

Were you homesick at first?

Not really. Going back was always in my mind so it didn't really matter that much. Apart from people, the main thing I missed is the food! We used to go down to Soho quite a lot, Chinatown, where we could get Chinese food there, but then you've got to travel quite a way to get it!

What would you say your journey has been that led you to still being here?

I met a girl who is still my wife that, 45 years on, 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.

And is it home?

It depends on how you define home actually. Singapore is my home where I grew up in, okay? But then England is my home where I've got married, started a family and put down roots. So both of them are home, but a different perspective.

Would you say you were proud of your journey?

I don't think proud is the right word. I'd just say that I'm glad I did the journey. And I've settled in well. And that's where I am now.

What are you doing now? What is your legacy here?

I became a Christian about 25 years ago. Since I retired, I've been very active in my church and its activities. And it's good gratifying work and enjoyable.

I've met a lot of people who have stayed good friends. I've got my children, grandchildren. A good ring of friends and family that I enjoy being with all the time. I don't know if legacy is 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 families and that's that's the legacy that I would like to say that I've left behind.

What did you enjoy about the NHS?

I did enjoy treating and having a rapport patients. To the extent that I've got some patients who have been with me for about 20/30 years, and I've seen them and their children as well.

Anything more you'd like to add?

Yes, 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 all throughout my time, while I was working in the NHS as well.

Could I have done things better? Yes. But regrets? No.

And there were never any thoughts of retiring to Singapore?

No, because now I feel more of a foreigner in Singapore, than I would say I'm a foreigner in this country, even despite the fact ethnically I'm Chinese. So that's my final sort of reflection on my whole journey, I suppose, that I've settled here and I'm happily settled here. And this is my home.

Okay, thanks so much, dad for that and your recollections.

Most welcome.