• Blog
  • Living in Beijing Blogs

Meet the woman who went from Beijing ayi to Shanghai bartender

Super ayi has arrived

Images: Yang Xiaozhe
Hailing from a small town in Anhui, Ang Wei Hong had her beginnings working numerous different gigs in Beijing – from ayi to jianbing maker – but now you'll find her mixing cocktails in Shanghai…

Painting, making street food, housecleaning – I did almost every job imaginable in Beijing, but I have never dreamed that one day I would be bartending in Shanghai.

I'm from a poor area in Anhui. After getting married and having my son and daughter, my family and I moved to Beijing in hopes of finding better opportunities. In 2004, I started working as a housecleaner for a few foreign college students. When they returned to the United States, one of them, Warren Pang, remained. We'd gotten close over the years and I continued working just for him.


Eventually, I mentioned to him that I was seeking more work, and he offered me a position at his bar, Janes and Hooch. He warned me that work was going to be really tough with late shifts, but I was determined and eager to try something new. Though I started as an ayi and server, I soon switched to cooking small dishes. My days making street food like jianbing and lamb chuanr proved useful as I found it pretty easy to manoeuvre the kitchen.

I first came across the concept of mixology at Janes and Hooch. Warren wanted to train me, but because I couldn't read English and the bar manager's reluctance, I never officially became a bartender, though Warren would occasionally ask me to make drinks for him and his friends. I distinctly remember my first time mixing a cocktail – Warren taught me how to make a simple martini, which is now coined the 'ayi-tini,' my signature drink.

After three years working at Janes and Hooch, Warren asked me to come to Shanghai to work at a new café he was working with. Initially, I declined. Though my daughter had already moved back to Anhui and my son was working in Shanghai, I couldn't leave my husband as he had just gotten knee surgery; there would be no one to take care of him if I left. But Warren was persistent. He even promised that if I came first, he would try to help my husband come later. After a lot of deliberation and my husband's support, I finally agreed. We thought it'd be best if our family could eventually reunite in Shanghai, as my son is here as well. So in March this year, I packed my bags and flew down.


I started working cooking and serving food until Warren suggested that I try bartending. Though I was doubtful at first, as I didn't know English, I was curious and eager to learn. I spent weeks trying to memorise the cocktail menu and the drink translations, looking up words I didn't know. It was definitely difficult, but it eventually paid off.

Out of all the jobs I've had – and I've had quite a number – I enjoy making drinks the most. I think it's similar to making snacks like I did on the streets of Beijing years ago. You start with the standard ratios and then tailor the ingredients slightly based on personal preference. To me, it's really rewarding when I can make a drink that suits a customer's taste exactly.

At first, I had a hard time living in Shanghai – two weeks in, I wanted to go back. Housing is expensive and I wasn’t used to the fast-paced, cosmopolitan lifestyle. Besides bartending, I also manage [Shanghai café] Bitter, which includes closing up the store at night, checking supplies and managing the finances. It’s definitely hard work and a lot of pressure, but now I plan on staying here. In just these past four months, I feel like I’ve adapted and acquired so much knowledge and experience. My goal is to ultimately create the most delicious cocktails.

As told to Beverly Shen

Read more

Janes and Hooch

A cocktail bar paying homage to America's prohibition era

Read more
4 Gongti Bei Lu (diagonally across from Q Mex) (Changping)
  • 4 out of 5 stars