Colleen meets her late mother's best friend

SINGAPORE - The last time Madam Chan Yoke Mei saw her best friend was about 25 years ago.

But when she met Ms Colleen Turzynski on the second day of the new year, it was as if she was meeting Ms Turzynski's mother all over again.

Madam Chan and Madam Lee Kui Yin were best friends, and had even gone on a holiday to Europe for about six months in 1981.

"I knew Colleen only from photos of her as a baby, but now she has grown up to be so big," she told The Straits Times on Wednesday, through a sign language interpreter from the Singapore Association for the Deaf.

"They have the same eyes, the same facial features," she said of Ms Turzynski, who is now 26 and is deaf, like her late mother and Madam Chan.

Madam Chan, who is now 62 and works as a dishwasher, had befriended the late Madam Lee after they met in the 1970s at a clinic offering acupuncture for the ear in Guangzhou, China.

They found out that they lived near each other in Singapore. "We were like sisters. We liked to go out together to eat, meet deaf friends, and travel around," she said.

Since reading about Ms Turzynski's search for her family in Singapore, Madam Chan had been trying to get in touch with her.

The Polish orphan lost all contact with her mother's family and friends here after the murder of her parents in 1990, but reunited with them last year and is on a month-long visit here.

Madam Chan can hardly write in English, so she roped in friends to help her write a letter and send it to Ms Turzynski's university in the United States. But the letter did not reach Ms Turzynski and was mailed back to Madam Chan.

Through The Straits Times, and with the help of her friends, Madam Chan eventually managed to reach Ms Turzynski via e-mail.

On the day they met, they went to the columbarium at Mount Vernon to pay their respects to Madam Lee. This was the second time for Ms Turzynski, who had lost no time in going there on the very day she arrived in Singapore, on Dec 16.

Of Madam Chan, Ms Turzynski said: "She taught me how to arrange the oranges and offer prayers with joss sticks."

Madam Chan showed her about 40 sepia-toned photos of her mother with friends.

Ms Turzynski said: "She also told me some stories, especially about my mum's travels. She knows more about my mum than I do, and that's quite amazing."

This article was first published on Jan 10, 2015.
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