Hanging a set of Lunar New Year’s couplets during the Lunar New Year contributes to the festive atmosphere, and if the characters are written in golden ink, that adds some extravagance to the mix. The gold powder used in golden ink is often mixed with banana oil (amyl acetate), so working for a long time in a closed room often results in the same feeling of discomfort that appears after having inhaled paint fumes in a closed room for too long. According to popular wisdom, a good way to remedy this feeling of intoxication is to drink dairy beverages, although Lin Chieh-liang, director of the department of toxicology at Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital says this is not based in fact. According to Lin, the best thing to do is instead to go outdoors and breathe some fresh air to clear your head.
Many public institutions and temples are currently organizing couplet writing events at which well known calligraphers write and give away New Year’s couplets. If these couplets, in addition to containing wise and auspicious sayings, are also written in golden ink, that will only increase the holiday festive atmosphere among visitors.
Calligrapher Chen Chin-hsing has been invited by the Beitou District Office in Taipei to write couplets at the district’s Guandu Temple. The organizers prepared dairy beverages and vitamin C-rich drinks for Chen so he wouldn’t get thirsty and to help minimize the residue of the dizzying banana oil fumes he would inhale.
Calligraphers normally use regular ink, but using golden ink is a different matter. According to Chen, some calligraphers use regular varnish which they mix with gold powder and gold varnish, until they get the right proportions, but because varnish has color, some people replace it with banana oil which is neutral.
Banana oil is made from a mixture of ester, ketone and ether solvents and aromatic agents. It is highly solvent and can be used to thin paints to reduce the use of thinner, and it also has an unusual fragrance for a solvent.
Chen suggested that when using gold ink for a longer period of time, it is best to stay out in the open or at least to have a window open to keep the air flowing, since ink with banana oil mixed in will cause dizziness after a while. He said he didn’t really know if it would be harmful to one’s health or if drinking dairy beverages will have any effect on dizziness.
Lin Chieh-liang says that banana oil is a volatile solvent that is not very toxic. According to him, it is often used in furniture and facade paint, and he says painters that work in closed rooms for a long time will develop dizziness and nausea and may feel like vomiting. When older workers notice that a painter begins to behave abnormally, maybe talking nonsense or suddenly bursting into song, they know it is the banana oil playing up and will tell the person to go outside and get some fresh air or drink some dairy beverages.
Lin believes that leaving the room to get some fresh air is the right thing to do, because banana oil fumes can be metabolized in the liver and kidneys, while dairy beverages are a placebo that will not have much effect on the fumes from organic solvents.
(Translated by Perry Svensson)