Q&A: Helen Gym
My name is … Helen Gym. My middle name is Hae-Liun.
I am a … mom, wife and Councilperson, and always trying to figure out how to be all three at the same time.
When I moved here from Columbus, Ohio, in 1986 … Philly was the biggest place I had ever been. My first apartment was at 42nd and Walnut. I got mugged maybe a block down. It was an adventure.
I met my husband … in the hallways of the Daily Pennsylvanian, when he was the photo editor and I was a brand-new reporter.
My kids are always telling me … not to leave the city for the suburbs. We use it as a threat.
The thing most people don’t understand about City Council is … that dynamics are always shifting. Positions on an issue might change. Things aren’t quite as fixed as they might seem to be.
My most prized material possession is … my Japanese maple that I grew from a teeny-weeny Home Depot plant.
My new colleagues on City Council have treated me … like an actual colleague, which was surprising and refreshing.
For lunch, you’ll usually find me … at my desk, eating Saltines and water and candy. It’s really unhealthy.
Charter schools are … complicated ventures that are vastly different than what they started out to be.
My unexpected friend on Council has been … Derek Green. We haze each other.
To parents leaving the city due to schools, I say … if you have the privilege to walk away, then I would hope that you would use the privilege to help fix it.
My secret talent is … I can fall asleep at will. Anywhere. Anytime.
The first album I ever bought with my own money was … Grease. My mom didn’t let me listen to music, so I’d sneak out to the library to listen to it. Eventually, I decided to buy it on my own.
My parents taught me … everything. My father taught me that you can’t really rise in life if those around you are suffering. And my mother taught me — don’t make waves. But she didn’t teach me that very well.
One hobby I don’t have enough time for is … martial arts. I started hung gar kung fu in 1999, right after I had my son, and continued until four or five years ago.
My worst subject in high school was … chemistry. I don’t think I applied myself. Asians aren’t actually all that great at science. I was clear proof of that.
One thing Philly should steal from another city is … solar buses.
Growing up as an Asian-American woman was … a struggle, because I grew up in a Midwestern suburb where I was a singularly alone person of color.
One habit I can’t break is … obsessively cleaning if I’m under a lot of stress.
The last time I had a cheesesteak … was three years ago at John’s, when my cousins from Korea visited. I’m much more of a Vietnamese hoagie kind of girl.
I wanted to grow up to be … Wonder Woman. She was awesome. Plus, those boots.
When people ask me if I’ll run for mayor, I tell them … I have a long way to go.
Published as “One of Us” in the September 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.