Notes from Paris is how writer and media strategist, Azimin Saini, makes sense of Paris through the lens of a Singaporean. The social media influencer uses Instagram to document his everyday life as a Parisian, navigating protests (of which there are many), naming etymologies, bureaucracy with local French authorities, and meal prep. This digital column is a textual manifestation of the hours he spent understanding what Paris is and accepting what it isn’t.

I’ve accepted a few things as part of being a Singaporean. 1) That the BTO ballot system will be a quarterly struggle, and 2) That I’ll never buy a car because Grab is just cheaper without any of that car-sized baggage.

Moving to Paris changed all that. I’m now the co-owner of a Tesla Model Y — words I never thought would tumble out of my mouth, given I have never (and will never, God forbid) been a Musk fanboy.

Still, while I mutter disdain under my breath for the world’s most problematic CEO, it’s hard to hate the Tesla’s sunroof that offers views of the Paris cityscape, the plush white vegan leather seats, and how everything can be done digitally since it’s an Electric Vehicle (EV). When it’s -3 degrees outside, I could warm the car on my phone before leaving home and then scamper into a comfortable 19-degree space. There’s no need for keys as the car is paired with my phone, so I can simply enter. 

And the most important part: Because it’s Paris, the car could alert me on my phone with live footage wherever I am in the world if any of its cameras detect and record unusual activity.

In the words of The Peak’s Editor-in-Chief, Zatiman, EVs are “the pinnacle of tech.”

The view of the Eiffel Tower through the sunroof. (Photo: Azimin Saini)

Except this pinnacle of tech can’t fit our basement garage.

It sounds completely idiotic, but while we took all the measurements to make sure our Model Y fits the parking lot, we didn’t realise that we had to manoeuvre around a dingy driveway that’s narrower than Marilyn Manson’s waistline with the smell of piss lingering in the air.

The garage. (Photo: Azimin Saini)

France’s ecological romance

Thankfully, this was the only terrible thing that’s happened in my journey as a car owner in France. In truth, the country is so far ahead in the EV game that Singapore has become the tubby one panting at the back of the pack.

Charging points — a huge factor for EV owners — are easily available everywhere in the city, and there’s even a pilot test for an electric stretch of road that will charge passing electric vehicles wirelessly. The French government also doles out a €5,000 ($7,248) subsidy to encourage car owners to switch from petrol to electricity.

This is all part of an ecological push and reduce carbon emissions. Besides championing EV adoption, France today has all but banned single-use plastics in fast food restaurants, everyone brings their grocery bags, and at least 70 per cent of energy is generated by nuclear reactors. Resultantly, France has lowered carbon emissions to 4.0 metric tonnes per capita, while Singapore sits at a hefty 7.1 metric tonnes.

But hey, we’re content with the frivolity of robots bringing us food, climate-controlled forest domes, and a 40-metre indoor waterfall at the airport, right? Enter any supermarket, and you’ll see rows of fruit and vegetables suffocating in cheap plastic bags. Sometimes, when I bite into an apple, I can still taste the plastic. Takeaways, like coffee from the hawker centre, come in little plastics that look like blood bags as if the caffeine in it was a blood transfusion in progress.

The Tesla Model Y. (Photo: Azimin Saini)

Where are you, Singapore?

Folks, we are desperately lagging, and our EV situation is faring worse. As of January 2024, there are a little less than 11,000 fully electric cars in Singapore, a slower take-up rate than the authorities expected. In contrast, 25 per cent of all cars sold monthly in France are electric.

A lot of this is thanks to the lack of charging infrastructure, according to Channel News Asia and The Straits Times. Meanwhile, France’s large EV adoption rate is matched by its aggressive installation of charging points — a number that surpassed 110,000 in mid-2023. A further €200 million investment was announced to accelerate this figure to reach 400,000 by 2030, all part of a national and society-wide commitment to do right by the planet.

The point is not to compare number to number given our vastly different geographic and population sizes. Rather, it is the rate, foresight, and urgency at which France has implemented progressive EV policies. I mean, that’s saying a lot, given that my adopted home is hardly the paragon of technological advancement.

Elsewhere in the world, China has emerged as the world’s biggest EV market and in 2022 alone, Chinese electric car buyers formed 59 per cent of all global sales.

A row of charging stations in Paris. (Photo: Azimin Saini)

The reality check

Some may say that Singapore does not encourage car ownership, but there will always be people who prefer the mobility it affords. Likewise, there will always be Singaporeans who are perfectly content buying new petrol cars like it’s still 1998 and collecting plastic bags to decorate the space beneath the sink.

Unfortunately, I now deign to sit in one of these petrol-guzzling tin cans because it feels like I’m sitting in a historical relic. I might as well be carted around in a wheelbarrow, and even that produces lower carbon emissions.

To Singapore’s credit, the authorities are making strides. Buyers of new EVs can save up to $40,000 off the Additional Registration Fee and there’s a target to deploy 60,000 EV charging points across the island by 2030. 

Charging the Tesla. (Photo: Azimin Saini)

Local news outlets hail this as yet another way that Singapore is leading the region. But here’s a reality check: 2030 is still six years from now, and for all that chest-thumping bravado of being a clean and green city, Paris, with its thousand-year-old monuments, seems to be able to overhaul its infrastructure faster than we have.

There are certainly a few things I’ve accepted as part of being a Singaporean, but being a late adopter is not one of them. One thing is for sure, when the time comes for me to pack my bags and move back to Singapore, I’ll be sure to get a car that, at the very least, fits the parking lot. I hope to the heavens it’s equipped with an electric charger, as there’s no way I’d get around in a wheelbarrow.