Peter Hessler, "River Town"
River Town is Peter Hessler's memoir of living and teaching in rural Sichuan province as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1990s. It is one of the most widely read accounts in the English-speaking world of living in China as a foreigner, and was published in Chinese as 江城. Hessler went on to write several more books about contemporary China and published many articles in The New Yorker.
This passage describes the beginning of Hessler's quest to master Chinese.