About

Hello stranger!

Thanks for dropping by on Kaohongshu. My name is Jorrit van der Heide 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 extremely cliché, but falling in love with a Chinese girl changed my views on learning Mandarin completely. 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 started developing a serious interest in Chinese history, culture and literature as well.

Unfortunately, I wasted a lot of time self-studying Mandarin basics, focusing on Pinyin and repeating the same basic dialogues and other activities that are supposed to be useful, but without much result. The Chinese evening classes I attended at my university weren’t much good either. The Taiwanese teacher was nice, but lacked teaching experience. The students were awful, undisciplined and just showed up whenever they felt like it. We didn’t even manage to cover the most basic of basics.

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. I was just another helpless foreigner stranded in China. The trip itself, from Shanghai to Kaifeng, and from there all the way to Xinjiang and back again was really overwhelming. But I had to improve my Mandarin skills!

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 taking classes from 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 Chinese characters. But to really get beyond the basic dialogues and actually use Chinese in daily communication, I had to go to China.

Kaifeng and kaohongshu

Instead of studying one semester at the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai, I decided to go to for a different experience in Kaifeng (Henan province) and attend classes at the Henan University. I’ve always preferred the raw and rural China over the more developed cities.

At the eastern gate of the university the busy people of Kaifeng 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 in China 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.