A special Christmas for Polish orphan Colleen Turzynski who will meet Singapore relatives

Ms Colleen Turzynski's Singaporean mother Lee Kui Yin and Polish father Kazimierz Turzynski. Her parents and Polish grandfather were murdered in a stabbing attack in New Jersey in 1990. Ms Colleen Turzynski, 26, has moved from Poland to Washington, w
Ms Colleen Turzynski's Singaporean mother Lee Kui Yin and Polish father Kazimierz Turzynski. Her parents and Polish grandfather were murdered in a stabbing attack in New Jersey in 1990. Ms Colleen Turzynski, 26, has moved from Poland to Washington, where she is now taking a degree course in art and design. During her month-long visit to Singapore starting on Tuesday, she will stay in the spare room in the Whampoa home of her uncle, and get to see photos of her mother growing up.PHOTO: COLLEEN TURZYNSKI ST PHOTO: MELISSA SIM
Ms Colleen Turzynski's Singaporean mother Lee Kui Yin and Polish father Kazimierz Turzynski. Her parents and Polish grandfather were murdered in a stabbing attack in New Jersey in 1990. Ms Colleen Turzynski, 26, has moved from Poland to Washington, w
Ms Colleen Turzynski's Singaporean mother Lee Kui Yin and Polish father Kazimierz Turzynski. Her parents and Polish grandfather were murdered in a stabbing attack in New Jersey in 1990. Ms Colleen Turzynski, 26, has moved from Poland to Washington, where she is now taking a degree course in art and design. During her month-long visit to Singapore starting on Tuesday, she will stay in the spare room in the Whampoa home of her uncle, and get to see photos of her mother growing up.PHOTO: COLLEEN TURZYNSKI ST PHOTO: MELISSA SIM

She is finally flying in to pay respects to her mum's remains and visit long-lost relatives

This Christmas will be a special one for Ms Colleen Turzynski, 26, who is finally flying to Singapore to visit her long-lost relatives.

At the top of her list of things to do during her month-long visit to Singapore starting on Tuesday is neither shopping nor sightseeing, but paying respects to her late mother Lee Kui Yin, whom she lost when she was just 17 months old.

Her mother's ashes are at Mount Vernon Columbarium. Ms Turzynski, who is deaf, told The Sunday Times through gestures and text messages: "It is most important to visit my mum's niche."

Since the story of her search for her Singapore family was published by The Straits Times in April, Ms Turzynski - who lost her mother as well as her Polish father and grandfather in a tragic murder in the United States 24 years ago - has been looking forward to a reunion with her Singaporean kin.

Having lived in Poland since her parents' death, she had lost all contact with her mother's family.

After reading her story in The Straits Times in April, three family members immediately came forward, producing photos of her parents and her when she was a baby.

The newspaper also set up a Skype chat in which, with the help of a sign language translator, she had a virtual meeting with some members of her mother's family for the first time.

With their support and some help from Straits Times readers, who donated about $7,000 to her for school and travel to Singapore, she will be meeting her Singaporean relatives this week.

But before visiting her mother, she made a trip to New Jersey, where her father and grandfather are buried, and cried when she found their graves after looking for three hours. She said: "I cried because I finally got to meet my dad and granddad."

Her trip to the US had convinced her that she wanted to study there, so she applied to a university and has since moved from Poland to Washington, where she is now taking a degree course in art and design. She hopes to be a graphic designer after graduation.

But this winter away from school will be dedicated to spending time in Singapore and getting to know her family. Already, her Singaporean friend at school has told her about the fast-paced city, how clean and humid it is, and how littering is against the law.

She has been communicating with her cousins over e-mail and WhatsApp to arrange her visit here.

But none of her relatives here knows sign language.

"I'm just worried about my deafness and how to communicate with them. Can I hug them?" she asked, worried that her Chinese relatives, especially the elderly, might not be comfortable with that.

She has asked for help from the Singapore Association for the Deaf, which will provide free sign language interpretation services and help her get in touch with her mother's friends.

Its deputy director, Mr Alvan Yap, said: "We regard her as one of our own, as her mother was part of our local deaf community."

Her Singaporean family will try to communicate with her through simple gestures and by writing on paper, said her aunt, Madam Lee Say Moi, 66, in Mandarin.

Recalling the murder of Ms Turzynski's mother - who was seventh in the family of eight children - Madam Lee sobbed: "It's just sad. Colleen was so young when it happened and she grew up without her parents."

Now, the family's priority is to make Ms Turzynski feel at home.

She will stay in the spare room in the Whampoa home of her uncle, Mr Lee Tak Nyen, 70.

She will also get to see photos of her mother growing up, and attend at least two family reunion dinners. Madam Lee plans to cook Hakka dishes such as beef meatball soup and pork belly for her. Madam Lee's son Octavious Khoo, 42, said: "We're excited to see her in person after all these years."

Besides her family, many who were touched by her story and reached out to support her have invited her to dinner when she is in Singapore. She said she will take the opportunity to thank them.

While she admits she is a little nervous about this first meeting with all her Singaporean family members, she is clearly excited about her big trip. "I will be happy to meet them in person," she said.

simlinoi@sph.com.sg

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg