Theme 3 - “Candy Chang: Before I die I want to...”

The sudden loss of her beloved mother made Candy Chang seriously reflect upon the meanings of life and death. Candy came to an important conclusion – Life was short and she had to care more about her neighbours and share their mutual feelings before it was too late. For this purpose, she created a public space by turning the outside wall of an abandoned house into a giant chalkboard and stenciled it with the sentence “Before I die, I want to …….” and invited all passers-by to pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in life by filling in the blanks. This idea of a public sharing space wall soon became popular not just in her home city New Orleans but it also spread internationally. Similar walls were set up in other countries like Kazakhstan, South Africa, Australia and Argentina.




Task A: Matching Activity

Match the words on the right with its explanations on the left.

Task B. Comprehension activities

1. Watch the video clip and fill in the missing information with words below:

2. Decide if the following statements are true:

3. Choose the best answers to the questions below:

Task C. Use of idioms

In English, as in other languages, a lot of words are used in their figurative meanings. As those figurative meanings are derived from their literal meanings, it is essential to understand their literal meanings in the first place. The following words were used in their figurative meanings in the clip:

Word Literal meaning Figurative meaning
Straddle To sit in such a manner that each of the person’s leg is put on one side of the object Stretching to covering two areas of a place (as if you were sitting at the dividing line between them)
Bump into somebody To physically hit into somebody To meet somebody by chance (as if you accidentally hit him/her in the street. )
Cavalry The part of an army that uses armoured vehicles to fight. The guard of somebody, e.g., a man looking after and protecting her girlfriend.

There are many examples of words used in their figurative meaning, too. Below are some other examples:

Word Literal meaning Figurative meaning
Touch To put your hand on something and feel its existence. To influence and affect the emotions of somebody. E.g., Her sad story deeply touched me.
Bread and butter The basic food which Westerners have for every meal. The basic matters of life which are important but not surprising. E.g., Peter is doing the bread and butter job of a postman but Tom is doing an ever-challenging job of a company CEO.
Green light The light signal for pedestrians or cars to move forward. The approval given to somebody to proceed with his/her work. E.g., The boss gave him the green light to proceed with his proposal.

Can you watch the video clip again and check the exact meaning of each idiom listed in the table?

Video ©


Candy Chang: There are a lot of ways that people around us can help improve our lives. We don’t bump into every neighbor, so a lot of wisdom never gets passed on, but we do share the same public spaces. So over the past few years, I’ve tried ways to share more with my neighbors in public space, using simple tools like stickers, stencils and chalk. And these projects came from questions I had, like, how much are my neighbors paying for their apartments? (Laughter) How can we learn and borrow more things without knocking on each other’s doors at a bad time? How can we share more of our memories of our abandoned buildings and gain a better understanding of our landscape? And how can we share more of our hopes for our vacant storefronts, so our communities can reflect our needs and dreams today? Now, I live in New Orleans and I am in love with New Orleans. My soul is always soothed by the giant live oak trees, shading lovers, drunks and dreamers for hundreds of years, and I trust a city that always makes way for music. (Laughter) I feel like every time someone sneezes New Orleans has a parade. (Laughter) The city has some of the most beautiful architecture in the world, but it also has one of the highest amounts of abandoned properties in America. I live near this house, and I thought how I could make this a nicer space for my neighborhood, and I also thought about something that changed my life forever. In 2009, I lost someone I loved very much. Her name was Joan, and she was a mother to me, and her death was sudden and unexpected. And I thought about death a lot, and this made me feel deep gratitude for the time I’ve had, and brought clarity to the things that are meaningful to my life now. But I struggle to maintain this perspective in my daily life. I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and forget what really matters to you. So with help from old and new friends, I turned the side of this abandoned house into a giant chalkboard, and stenciled it with a fill-in-the-blank sentence: “Before I die, I want to …” So anyone walking by can pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in public space. I didn’t know what to expect from this experiment, but by the next day, the wall was entirely filled out, and it kept growing. And I’d like to share a few things that wrote on this wall. “Before I die, I want to be tried for piracy.” (Laughter) “Before I die, I want to straddle the International Date Line.” “Before I die, I want to sing for millions.” “Before I die, I want to plant a tree.” “Before I die, I want to live off the grid.” “Before I die, I want to hold her one more time.” “Before I die, I want to be someone‘s cavalry.” “Before I die, I want to be completely myself.” So this neglected space became a constructive one, and people’s hopes and dreams made me laugh out loud, tear up, and they console me during my own tough times. It’s about knowing you’re not alone. It’s about understanding your neighbors in new and enlightening ways. It’s about making space for reflection and contemplation, and remembering what really matters most to us as we grow and change. I made this last year, and started receiving hundreds of messages from passionate people who wanted to make a wall with their community, so my civic center colleagues and I made a tool kit, and now walls have been made in countries around the world, including Kazakhstan, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and beyond. Together, we’ve shown how powerful our public spaces can be if we’re given the opportunity to have a voice and share with one another. Two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationships with other people. In our age of increasing distractions, It’s more important than ever to find the ways to maintain perspective and remember that life is brief and tender. Death is something that we’re often discouraged to talk about or even think about, but I’ve realized that preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life. Our shared spaces can better reflect what matters to us as individuals and as a community, and with more ways to share our hopes, fears and stories, the people around us can not only help us to make better places, they can help us lead better lives. Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)

Candy Chang: Before I die I want to... (6:20)-

Extensive Listening:

If you are interested in the above clip, you might also be interested in the following ones about the public space wall of Candy Chang:
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