As they argued, I smiled awkwardly.

“Of course it’s everything. Look at how much there is!”

“But are you sure you got everything?”

My towering bag of food was definitely a big order. I can see why the guy figured it must all be packed away. I mean, how much could the lone foreign girl have wanted?

My waitress did inventory anyway and sent me on my way. Laden with food, I walked home, eventually slapping it down on our living room table. At least no one needed watch me devour half of this feast — I could enjoy in peace.

But then, the final slap: the chopsticks.

We had been given 14 pairs. Evidently, they thought only 14 people could tackle such a heaping load of food.

I sighed, tossed the extras into the swelling bag of our other excess chopsticks, and ate. But it bothered me well after my meal.

This was the uphill battle of being more eco-friendly in Beijing.

I’ve long been turning my attention to green living, since my days of recycling and cleaning trails as I hiked in Boulder. My mother and father set their own examples, too, up in South Dakota. Between the compost heap and the beehive, my father is definitely doing his part.

Then I moved to a city with literally millions of people. And there seemed to be very little awareness of eco-anything. Their recycle bins were treated as trash cans. Everything seemed to be plastic. The city is often shrouded in pollution.

It felt an impossible task to make my life more green here.

But oh, I have tried.

Especially in the past year, Manfriend and I have both been making whatever changes we can to lighten our impact.

We use our cloth shopping bags as often as possible, and we refuse plastic bags and plastic straws whenever we can. Manfriend can’t help himself — whenever we say we don’t need one, he adds, “We don’t want to be wasteful.” I can’t say anyone cares why — the frazzled cashier on a 12-hour shift was just asking, after all — but it’s his way of spreading the message.

At work, I set up a recycling system … that all my students ignore. (Never fear — I’m that strange teacher who’s digging through those bins, sorting things as best as I can stomach.)

I’ve even become the girl of many cups and bottles in my bag. That way, at every turn, I can simply fill up a water bottle or use a metal cup for my daily coffee.

Honestly, though, it doesn’t always make things feel better. Even when I’m in the restaurant, insisting I don’t need chopsticks, I end up with 14 pairs. It’s hard to avoid the plastic.

But if I’m doing my part, in any small way, I feel a bit better.

And clearly well-sorted for chopsticks.

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