I am starting to plan my trip to China in earnest. I had pencilled it in for the end of February before someone kindly pointed out to me that this is the Chinese New Year and not the most propitious time for a trip. It would be like planning a trip to the UK at Christmas and expecting to find people at their desks. I will now be going in early March, probably for around ten days.

I have now made my first approach to some very important panda researchers in China. I am determined to do everything within my means to have several strong Chinese voices in The Way of the Panda, reflecting the flood of excellent panda-related research that has been pouring out of China over the last decade and more. Most of the popular panda books for a non-Chinese audience have failed to capture the contribution of the Chinese (excepting books like George Schaller’s The Last Panda and Lü Zhi’s Giant Pandas in the Wild). There is so much new and fascinating research that needs to be reported on.

I am looking forward to visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. This will prove invaluable for capturing the work on captive pandas, which will feature in one of the last chapters of my book. While I am there, I also hope to head into the mountains to see the abandoned Catholic Mission where Armand David made his first panda encounter.

In Beijing, I also hope to meet several people and locate some of the places David visited. It would be nice to do things like visit the Nanhaizi Jiaoye Park on the outskirts of the city – this is where they have the reintroduced Pere David’s deer – but I don’t think I’ll have time to drift too far from pandas. When I am in the Beijing region, I also hope to take a 40-minute bullet train to Tianjin, where I may give a talk at a Cafe Scientifique in the city’s Natural History Museum.

I had kind of come to terms with the growing feeling that my travelling days were over for a while; there is a limit to how far afield and how adventurous one can be with two small children. I am thrilled that this is not quite the case and that I am to make it to China after all, a country I have longed to visit but have somehow missed out on.

China plans