Hello stranger!

Thanks for dropping by on Kaohongshu. My name is Jorrit and I blog about everything related to learning Mandarin. You can find tips, news about apps and other tools and lots of unwanted advice.

About myself: I was born and raised in Holland and speak Dutch (and Frisian for the insiders), German, English and Mandarin Chinese. As a kid I learnt French too, but never got fluent. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I’d ever consider learning Chinese, I’d have said ‘hell no’. Why waste my precious time on something impossible?

Why Mandarin?

This sounds kind of cliché, but falling in love with a Chinese girl changed everything. Including my point of view on learning Mandarin. Others had done it before, why not me? I like languages and I had done quite a good job on German (not as foreign as Chinese, I have to admit, but still a foreign language).

I wasted a lot of time self-studying the Mandarin basics, focusing on Pinyin and hearing the same dialogues over and over again. The Chinese evening classes I attended at my university weren’t much good, cause students were absent most of the time and just showed up whenever they felt like it. I didn’t make any serious progress.

Not surprisingly, when I got to China for the first time, I could hardly understand a word. Nobody could or felt comfortable enough to speak English. At the same time, I was really overwhelmed by the country as we traveled from Shanghai to Kaifeng, and from there all the way to Xinjiang and back again.

Construction site Mandarin

That was 2013 and I’ve been ‘developing’ my Mandarin ever since. I continued studying on my own and received a lot of help from others. However it’s difficult to master a language like Chinese without formal education and the support of experienced teachers. In 2015, I decided to study Chinese as a regular student at the University of Frankfurt, teaching German on the side to pay the rent. This was the first time I managed laying a solid foundation: pronunciation, Pinyin, sentence patterns and my first set of Hanzi. But to really get beyond the basic dialogues and actually use Chinese for daily communication, I had to go to China.

Kaifeng and kaohongshu

The Frankfurt University allowed us to study one semester at the prestigious Fudan university in Shanghai, but I felt I’d probably be surrounded by other foreigners most of the time which wasn’t going to do my Chinese much good. I actually preferred “rural China” and the smaller towns and cities. Through Chinese family connections I ended up in Kaifeng (Henan province) at the Henan University. This proved to be an excellent choice.

At the eastern gate of the university people sold several snacks, including “kaohongshu” or baked sweet potatoes like the “kaoyumi” on the picture. This is where the name of this blog is derived from, from the vendor yelling “kaohongshu!”

Keep stirring

I would have stayed longer if the circumstances had allowed it, but I had to return to Europe after one semester. By then it was time to really enter the job market and leave the university behind. But I keep on studying. I’ve been back to China several times and even worked for a Chinese company. And who knows what the future will bring!

I hope you enjoy some of my posts on this blog! Don’t hesitate to comment or contact me to share ideas.