Finally, she mused that human existence is as brief as the life of autumn grass, so what was there to fear from taking chances with your life? ~ Mo Yan

The Altai Mountains in the far western reaches of Mongolia lie roughly within 100 kilometers of China, Russia, and Kazakhstan. In his research on the border, scholar Alexander Diener presents the following perspective of a local Kazakh herdsman about the region’s political geography:

One day the Chinese came to the nomads of our region with maps. They were great, large papers showing the whole territory of Mongolia with all its lakes, arid mountains, and pastures. One of these Chinese asked our fathers (ancestors) if, in the interests of peace, we would be willing to cede a matchbox size of land to China. Nomads, you must understand, are not accustomed to maps — we know our land in our heads and hearts. We are not so used to looking at the world in such a way (two dimensions). Also, nomads are generous people and like to show guests hospitality. So, they agreed to give the Chinese the land of a matchbox size. The Chinese then placed the matchbox on the map and traced its edges. The land beneath it was the great gold producing territory southwest of the Mongolian Altai range. They took the city of Alotai, the clean rivers of that region and, of course, the gold. What’s more, they created this infernal gap. I can almost throw a stone to Kazakhstan, but must have so many papers to travel there (Diener, 2011: 377).