A few months ago I read Escape From Camp 14, a book by journalist Blaine Harden about Shin Dong Hyuk, who’s one of the only — if not the only — person to escape North Korea’s horrifying prison camps during Kim Jong-il’s psychotic regime. The North Korean life depicted in the book, even that outside of the camps, was one of base, struggling, starving subsistence, which always stood in stark contrast with Jong-il’s cartoonish play-acting and offensive excess.
But since the country freaked out over Jong-il’s death, Kim Jong-un has taken the reins and signaled a change in the country towards loosening the throat-crushing grip of the previous regime. And while ‘loosening’ is a relative term in one of the world’s last and strongest totalitarian state, Jong-un may be the man to bring some measure of freedom to the still-starving country.
Images via KCNA
Still, in the tradition of his father, Jong-un has found himself immortalized in the West less for his sabre-rattling and more for his love of looking at things. First he was blown away by a grocery store, and now he’s been seen giving fitness advice at a brand new, 148,000 square foot, three story gym in Pyongyang.
According to a report by the state-run KCNA news agency:
Apparatuses for running and cycling exercises are good, he said, noting that if not only school youth and children but office workers who work in rooms all day long take exercises and receive medical treatment at the center, they can devote themselves to the revolutionary work in good health.
Going round the underwater supersonic wave room furnished with modern supersonic wave equipment to stimulate each region of body and equipment for wet and dry steam bath and shower, he underlined to need provide service well so that working people may find the center effective for physical exercises and medical treatment.
It is the steadfast determination and will of the Workers’ Party of Korea to enable the best people in the world to fully enjoy wealth and prosperity under socialism, he said, calling for operating the center well so that the happy laughter of the people may be heard from the center.
Of course, Jong-un discussing treadmills does seem like the same old tactics of his dad: doing his best to appease the semi-elite in Pyongyang and put forth a glowing face to the world, all while the rest of the country suffers with zero economy to speak of. That old habits are dying hard gives a negative outlook on his ability to lead the nation down a new path, but hey, treadmills!
Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.