What are the least-populated countries in the world?June 29, 2016

After your exhilarating visit to Uluru, you wondered about the Outback. Could Oz be a sparsely populated nation? It seemed to be the case after staring at the arid land. It would extend to the horizon, yet you have second thoughts when you turned to the coastal cities. Australia is a very habitable country.

You met your best mate in the university a few weeks later. He came back from his year-long backpacking all over Asia and Europe. You didn't hesitate to ask him the same question, as his experience might help you enlighten on the subject. And made his eyes light up. (It reminded you of the harbour during Vivid Sydney.) Australia had the best of both worlds, he said. You didn't ask him to elaborate on his opinion, but you could imagine his disapproval. (You may not be the only one who thought that Sydney was turning into an overcrowded community.) He enumerated five countries, which would be the least populated nations in the world. You excluded Antarctica, as this was a very obvious case. This was his short list:

Namibia. This African nation made him homesick, as the diverse landscape was very much like Oz. Grasslands, which could be paradise for hunters. An arid plateau, where he tried too hard to find the African counterpart of Uluru. (It turned out to be a futile attempt.) And the every-shifting dunes. Your mate was an English major, also an aspiring author. The sands captivated him, even convinced him that the authors who described the desert didn't succeed at all. You didn't ask him if he could do better as you wanted him to talk more on the topic.

Mongolia. This Asian country, which was once the heart of the Mongol Empire, baffled your mate. He knew that Genghis Khan saw the same open, wild landscape that he encountered last summer. Moreover, there was hardly any increase in the number of nomadic communities in this untamed part of this landlocked nation. It prompted him to wonder if this was the same Mongolia during the heyday of Ancient China. It reminded him of a pulp novella he read during his first year (in the university), about an adventurer who couldn't quench his lust for diamonds. It lured him to Inner Mongolia, where he got more than he wished for. It made him wonder if the same landscape glittered with gems many centuries ago. It intrigued you.

Greenland. Instead of arid land, think of ice. You were excited at the thought, which reminded you of a possible winter in many elevated areas of Oz. Your mate didn't fancy it, as he missed the sweltering heat in Siem Reap.

Iceland. Your mate insisted that you should visit this island country, where most of the populace would be found in Reykjavik. The rest of the landscape was a mixture of ice, rocks, and volcanoes. It would be a setting of a Jules Verne novel, he pointed out. The Frenchman happened to be his favourite author.

Botswana. As far as this African nation was concerned, the word was out about its dependency on safari tourism. Your mate couldn't imagine the locals living in the wildlife. (He won't try to match Roald Dahl's exploits in Kenya, when a lion became an unexpected visitor during dinner.) But he had a change of plan. Maybe next time.

You were green with envy, but you couldn't imagine setting foot in those places. You haven't been around Australia, and UIuru could be the beginning of your own adventure.

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