Lately I’ve thrown all my Chinese studies to the wind as I focus on coding bootcamp. By making this kind of shift, I knew it may be a very long time before I take Chinese language-learning seriously again.

Sometime around 3:30 a.m., that all changed.

A critical part of learning a language is getting enough sleep. When I was in Chinese school, I wrote up a list of daily non-negotiables: “Sleep 8 Hours a Day” was item #1. Now that I’m learning more languages (primarily JavaScript), I have a similar mentality about it.

However, over the last few years, like a baby going through some kind of transitional phase, I’ve had more and more trouble “sleeping through the night.” Sure, I can “stay in bed 8 hours.” But “sleep”? It doesn’t happen that often. Around 2 or 3 a.m. I wake up, and often don’t get back to sleep for hours.

I’ve tried to several things to help, with limited success. “Maybe this is part of getting older,” I reasoned. Unfortunately, I often found myself whittling that time away either by wishing I could get back to sleep, or getting up and watching a movie until I got sleepy again.

That’s not all bad, I suppose. It’s how I finally got around to seeing Topkapi, a movie that’s been on my to-see list since high school. It’s nice I was able to see it after I’d actually been to Istanbul. The heist scene was, of course, as memorable (and silent) as you’d expect from silent-heist-scene-maestro Jules Dassin.

About a week ago, I decided to stop wasting that time. Since using it to code would put me in front of the same screen I used to watch movies, I decided against that. Instead, I implemented two measures:

  1. Before bed, lock my phone in my car outside (where I’m not too likely to go in my pajamas).
  2. Put one of my unused Chinese textbooks near the chair in our bedroom.

The textbook – 《桥梁(下)》 – was scheduled for second semester of our sophomore year, but fortunately our teacher wisely switched us to a more level-appropriate program. We had already used the first volume, and it was actually quite good. It was just way too hard for B1 learners. It had introduced me to the very first piece of Chinese writing I actually enjoyed: 《差不多先生传》 by 胡适. I kept volume 2, but never got around to reading it.

I decided that now was the time. I read the first article around 4 a.m. last week, and was thrilled to find that the difficulty level is just right. It was about an astronaut who was killed by a malfunction on re-entry. I was a little disappointed though; there was just something about it that didn’t “ring true.”

The next article was about… Actually, I don’t know. My insomnia seems to have gone away. It appears I’ve cured insomnia by learning Chinese.

That almost seems a shame. Hopefully it will be back sometime, so I’ll be able to work my way through this book.

Photo: Lake on an Organic Farm in Ware Shoals, SC ©2020 Elijah Wilcott