In the following file, I found this code:
<?php echo $countries->toHtmlOptions($data->getCountryId()) ?>
$countries has not been instantiated in this phtml file and it kinds of looks like a global object. Typically, we just use $this-> to access methods and some other info in phtml files. I was also trying to find the related block for this global object($countries) and could not find it so easily. They also have few more variables in this template file.
How did they do it? May be, I can do something similar when it is necessary.